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Constructing North America’s largest single-press capacity particleboard operation in Grayling, Michigan, is no small feat.

Just ask Jake Elston, Vice President of Operations forARAUCO North America. He knows full well that the devil is in the details from the site selection and land procurement completed last year, up to the very moment the first panel comes off the press in late 2018.

“This is definitely one of the most exciting things many of us have ever been involved with in our careers,” says Elston, who joined the company 21 years ago after finishing his tour of duty with the U.S. Navy. “This mill will utilize the newest technology available in the industry. It will truly be a state of the art composite panel mill.”

How big is the Grayling particleboard project? 
The entire operation will be situated on one square mile located in north central Michigan. The plant will occupy approximately 750,000 square feet under roof. The 170-foot long by 10-foot wide Dieffenbacher continuous press line housed in it will have an annual production capacity of 424 million square feet of particleboard on a ¾ inch basis.

To put that huge production volume in perspective, Elston put pencil to paper and came up with several translations of what 424 million square feet represents, including:

• Equivalent to 13,250,000 standard 4×8 panels;

• Laid end-to-end, these panels could be used to build more than eight particleboard sidewalks stretching from New York City to Los Angeles; and

• Laid end-to-end these panels could be used to build a particleboard sidewalk around the circumference of the earth.

Plans for the operation also include installation of a decorative paper impregnation system and a pair of thermally fused laminate lines sold under the company’s new Prism TFL brand.

Grayling Plant Update
Elston says a project milestone was recently observed when the company hired Charles Mason on May 30th as a site drafter. Mason became the first of many area residents who will be hired eventually to operate the plant.

“We’ve had our internal design team of Tex Giddens, Goran Oscarsson, Manfred Timmerman and Mike Battisti working nearly full time with our strategic planning and engineering teams in South America for over a year. As the first local employee, Charles is working with this group to come up to speed on vendor contracts and also starting to support local issues in the Grayling community,” Elston says. “We will start hiring select plant leadership and construction management personnel by the end of the year.” Elston adds that ARAUCO North America is in the process of leasing temporary office space in downtown Grayling to support employees during construction planning and building phases. The facility is expected to eventually employ 250 employees.

“We are also engaged in reaching out to some of our local neighbors to personally introduce ourselves. We’re letting them know what’s going on regarding the scope and schedule of the project. Senior manufacturing consultants Matt Gibbon and Brian Sarginson have been on the ground and interacting with our neighbors to the extent possible. We’ve been very pleased with our dialogue and continue to be impressed with the Grayling community residents,” Elston says.

ARAUCO has applied for environmental permits with state and local agencies. Elston says approval is expected in mid-August.

In the meantime, work has begun to remove trees and underbrush from the building site, prerequisite preparations to add roads and utilities to service the plant. If all goes according to plan groundbreaking for the plant will commence this fall after permits are issued.

“It’s a very aggressive timetable to have the plant startup by the end of 2018. When you take into account Michigan winters, that’s really only 18 to 20 months to bring a mill of this size and capacity up to fully functional.”

Say Yes to Michigan!
Elston notes that the Grayling location is ideal for the new particleboard plant for a variety of reasons.

“The upper Midwest region – with the office furniture industry, RTA industry, cabinets and others – is the largest panel consuming region in North America. Michigan is a good fit to serve this market because it has available wood fiber, including residual wood from some nearby sawmills, and is logistically closer to many significant customers that are currently being served from suppliers much farther away.” Elston emphasizes that “The use of low value fiber that is currently underutilized in the area should be a win-win for ARAUCO, Grayling area land owners, and the community as a whole. It was a logical fit especially when you add the outstanding support we have received from local and state government agencies. Everything came together for this to be a great place for us to build our geographic footprint. We are looking forward to being an integral part of the Grayling community.”

Elston adds that the addition of TFL capacity gives customers throughout the Midwest better access to the latest Prism designs.

“This will be the first greenfield particleboard plant to be started in North America since 2001,” Elston says. “It’s very exciting for all of us to be part of the project and we are pleased and proud that the company has the confidence in us to build and operate this amazing facility in Grayling.”

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