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Local company expanding into 'glulam'

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The only glulam manufacturing plant in Ontario is nearly ready to go into full production right here in Rainy River District.

Titan Manufacturing not only has moved its roof and floor truss shop from its previous location on Highway 11/71 just west of Fort Frances to its new one at the former Gingrich Woodcraft site in La Vallee Township, but has been working diligently since the fall to expand the scope of its production to include glued laminated timber, also known as “glulam.”

“We've partnered with a company in Thunder Bay, Leaf Engineering Wood Products, and Leaf had been working on a plan to install a glulam plant in Ontario for a number of years,” said Titan owner Brian Hagarty.

“We have a contract with a large lumber distributor in the States for glulam,” he noted.

“Leaf was looking for a partner presently in manufacturing,” Hagarty added.

“It seemed to be a natural fit,” echoed James Mainville, who is Hagarty's business partner.

Work at the new site over the past six months has included setting up and testing glulam manufacturing equipment imported from Germany, as well as continuing the manufacturing of roof and floor trusses as Titan has done since 2015.

“It's been a bit of a process installing all of the equipment. It's quite complicated,” said Hagarty.

“It's automated and a lot of electrical work has gone into it,” he noted, tipping his hat to M.L. Caron Electric for their assistance.

Now Titan Manufacturing is in the process of being certified by the American Plywood Association (APA), which certifies glued wood products in Canada and the U.S.

Once this happens, they'll go into full production.

“We're able to produce but we're waiting for our certification," Hagarty said. ”That should be within the next few weeks.

“Basically, we'll send 55 pieces off to a lab in B.C. for testing," he explained. ”We're planning to do that [this week].

“We are probably gearing up for full production in the second or third week of May,” he later added.

After that, Titan Manufacturing has a large wholesaler in the U.S. that it already has taken orders from and which will be distributing glulam, along with Titan's regular roof and floor trusses, through the upper U.S. Midwest.

The Titan-made glulam product also will be made available to the local market.

“It's certainly exciting from that standpoint that this is first glulam plant in Ontario," Hagarty enthused. ”This is a big opportunity—we have a lot of wood that's not being utilized in Ontario.

“And we've had a lot of help from government sources, too.”

Titan Manufacturing will hold a grand opening in June, at which time public tours will be offered.

How glulam is made

Glulam is comprised of “laminas” (individual plys of lumber) glued together as opposed to one solid piece of lumber.

Manufacturing the glulam is a two-stage process, Hagarty noted.

The first step is taking pieces of lumber, cutting out all of the defects, and then finger-jointing them into longer pieces (a finger joint is a woodworking joint made by cutting a set of complementary rectangular cuts in two pieces of wood).

“You could take a 12-foot 2"x"4 that's crooked, cut it up, and give back to you the same lumber that's in it but now all of the defects are cut out,” Hagarty explained.

Using the automated system set up at Titan Manufacturing, a worker would mark all of the defects on a piece of lumber with a fluorescent crayon and feed the lumber into the system.

The saw would see the fluorescent markings and cut out the defects automatically before it's finger-jointed.

This means Titan Manufacturing will be using under-utilized wood.

“So we're going to take wood from Ontario, coming out of sawmills, that's basically rejected for other uses,” Hagarty said.

“Because we're cutting the defects out, we can utilize that in glulam.”

“We're able to use wood a lot more efficiently,” said Mainville.

Hagarty is estimating upwards of one million board feed per year at Titan Manufacturing. However, because they're cutting defects out, it could be double or triple that in terms of raw wood they'll need from Ontario sawmills.

The second step of the manufacturing is to glue together the cut wooden pieces. First, the finger joints are glued and allowed to dry for 12 hours.

The next day, an adhesive is applied to each piece of wood, which then are stacked to the desired thickness, pressed, and cured for a period of time before being sent through a planer.

“The interesting thing about the finger-jointing and the glulam is people tend to think, 'Well, you're gluing it together. How strong is that?'” said Hagarty.

As per APA standards, Titan Manufacturing has its own lab, where it must destruct 15 percent of its product and test it as part of ongoing in-house quality control.

“Consistently, the product always breaks at the wood, not the joint. The glue is stronger than wood,” Hagarty stressed.

“That's something we sometimes have to convince people of.”

The plant will produce utility-grade timbers up to 60 foot long and up to five feet thick.

“We call it 'utility grade' in that it's going to be enclosed in the wall," Hagarty noted. ”It doesn't have to have a finished appearance.

“But there is certainly a lot of commercial applications," he added. ”There's a big push on bridges right now.

“Most of the bridges in Ontario are being replaced or upgraded and with a lot of the small bridges, there's a sense of that 'return to wood,'” Hagarty said.

“So we would be looking at glulam beams, columns, or CLTs [cross-laminated timbers].”

Glulam also is a part of house construction just as much as trusses are, Hagarty noted.

“We use the word 'glulam' because that's product-specific but really what we're doing is building beams,” he remarked.

“Beams for window headers, door headers, bridge beams for floors—that type of thing.”

Glulam also can be formed in an arch or a curve and, in fact, that's what most people think of when they think of glulam, Hagarty said.

“They think of churches. The library in Fort Frances has glulams in the roof there,” he noted.

"The new Seven Gens building that's going up right now is all glulam.

“To start off with, we are building utility-grade glulam so it can be used for header applications," Hagarty explained. ”But we're certainly ready and looking forward to building some architectural grade, as well.

“We'll design the individual beam for the individual product.”

Glulam is very popular in Europe, noted Hagarty, and also is being seen in modern construction in North America where's there's been “a return to wood.”

Under the Ontario Building Code, for example, buildings can be built out of wood up to 12-storeys high.

“But the problem is, how do you find timber that's longer than 16 feet that's straight?” noted Hagarty.

That's where cross-laminated timber comes in, which is similar to glulam but using bigger pieces.

Titan will be manufacturing that in the future, as well.

Looking ahead, Titan Manufacturing will be expanding in more than one way. The plant currently employs eight staff but will be adding 10-20 employees down the road.

Hagarty also said they may be expanding the roof and floor truss manufacturing part of the business and getting a new saw, as well as building an addition to the facility sometime later this year.

Titan Manufacturing is nearly moved out of its previous location in Alberton Township (the former Nor-Fab Building Components), and will be selling that site in the near future.

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