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Feature Story - March 2007

Fluid schedule

Contractors combat shortages to build OSB complex in Oakdale, La.

By Sam Barnes

Martco Limited Partnership is taking a hands-on approach during construction of its new $200 million oriented strand board plant in Oakdale, La.

Martco President Roy Martin III, president and CFO of Martin Cos. of Alexandria, La., says his company is managing all aspects of the project. Martco Limited Partnership is the manufacturing arm of Martin Cos., which is made up of Roy O. Martin Lumber Co., Martin Timber Co. and Roy O. Martin Management Co. LLC.

"We normally handle projects that way," Martin says. "Everything is so specialized that we don't like to hire a general contractor because they can't be experts at everything. So we have the contractors and manufacturers working directly for us."

Adrian Schoonover is Martco's onsite project manager and, Martin says, "He's very well versed in construction and forest products manufacturing."

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Once complete this spring, the OSB plant will be capable of producing 850 million sq ft of OSB annually. OSB is used in roofing, wall material, subfloors and structural insulated panels.

The production of OSB is a multistage process, so each stage is contained in its own pre-engineered metal building and spaced far enough apart to maintain an 18-degree slope in the material conveyors. Bamburg Steel Buildings of West Monroe, La., built all of the buildings.

The largest building reaches 96 ft tall and contains about 20 acres under one roof.

Ground was broken at the site, located on about 200 acres off U.S. Highway 165, in May 2004. The site will have enough available space for future expansions, or for the construction of new product lines.

"It was all timberland owned by us, but there was no network of road, no access whatsoever," Martin says. "It was completely a greenfield site."

Martin says worker and material shortages plagued construction throughout the project, but particularly after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in fall 2005.

"It was particularly troublesome getting steel and labor," Martin says. "It was the worst we'd ever seen. And we were on a fast-track for the facility."

Martco made up for lost time with an aggressive equipment delivery schedule and bumped up workers at the site when possible. The workforce at the site eventually peaked at about 900.

"We should've been completed with the project in October or November, but material and labor delays affected us, especially during construction of the metal buildings," Martin says. Material shortages also affected OSB equipment manufacturers.

Weather delays were minimized because of the foresight of the Martco management team.

"Early on, we soil cemented the entire area so we could keep working," Martin says. "Even though the area is only about 130 ft above sea level, the site drains amazingly well."

Most of the concrete was supplied by Gilchrist Construction of Alexandria. Chase Contractors of Percy, Ark., performed concrete work and steel construction.

Karl Grubb, president of Waco Construction of Grenada, Miss., says his company constructed a lot of the concrete equipment foundations at the site. Waco specializes in construction at forest product facilities.

"We also performed steel erection, slabwork, paving, mechanical erection and installed some of the wood-yard elements (such as log-handling equipment, debarkers and flakers)," Grubb says.

During the largest single pour at the site, Waco Construction placed 1,440 cu yds of concrete to support a dryer cyclone. Upon completion of the project, Waco had placed nearly 20,000 cu yds of concrete, most of which was batched by Gilchrist Construction.

Grubb says material delays and project schedule revisions were a fact of life at the Oakdale job.

"There was an issue with structural steel - both fabrication and delivery - due to raw material availability and our workload needs," he adds.

"We've found that a construction schedule is a living, breathing organism that is constantly changing." Waco had nearly 65 workers at the site at the peak of construction. Transportation to the site was eased somewhat by the construction of a turning lane off US 165, provided by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development in conjunction with the Louisiana Economic Development.

The OSB complex was built using the "island concept."

"Each step in the process is contained in its own building," Martin says "The primary advantage to this is that we have conveyors that transport the wood flakes and they have to achieve an 18-degree slope. Therefore the processes are spaced apart. The belts can't be at a steep angle.

"Also, it's good to have the forming line separate from the blender."

O&M of Arcata, Calif., and Wambi Construction of Saltillo, Miss., performed equipment installation, and Ratcliff Construction of Alexandria built administration and specialty services buildings.

Martin says the manufacturing of OSB begins with the arrival of pine pulpwood, harvested from 584,000 acres of timberland owned by Martin Cos.

"We debark the logs in a drum debarker and that goes into three stranders that break down the pulp wood into flakes," Martin says.

The flakes are then conveyed into green bins for storage, then into three rotary dryers. The flakes are dried, then conveyed out of the dryers into the dry screen building. The large flakes are separated from the fines and conveyed to the blender building where resin and wax are applied to the strands (flakes).

"They're then conveyed to the forming line building and metered onto a continuous belt, 12 ft. wide, and then are separated into 12- by 24- to 26-ft sections, then conveyed to the press," Martin says.

The boards are pressed to size and cut in 4- by 8-ft, 4- by 9-ft or 4- by 10-ft sheets, stacked automatically and packaged for shipment. The finished product is shipped to distribution facilities located from Louisiana to California.

"We have one other OSB plant in Louisiana, located near Bunkie," Martin says. "In fact, the plant was featured in Time magazine when it was constructed in the early 1980s because it was one of the first uses of an economic enterprise zone."

Martco has another project under construction in nearby Chopin, La., a $75 million plywood facility expansion. The project broke ground in late 2005 and will be completed late this year.

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