ELKIN, N.C. — The Weyerhaeuser mill in Elkin, N.C., is a classic Made-in-the-USA manufacturing story.
Raw material in the form of “stumpage” — the mill executive’s term for “logs”— lines up at one end of the 186 million-sq.-ft. facility. Rolling out at the other end are neatly stacked and wrapped pallets of Weyerhaeuser Edge OSB, as well as Weyerhaeuser Edge Gold (photo 1).
(The regular Edge product guarantees: “No delamination.” The Edge Gold guarantees: “No sanding. No delamination.”)
The Elkin facility is one of several OSB manufacturing locations Weyerhaeuser operates across the country. Others are in Louisiana, Michigan and West Virginia. The Elkin plant’s highly automated, 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week manufacturing process employs more than 133 people.
One of those employees is Chris Phillips, the plant’s technical team leader who recently led a group of visitors on a walk-through tour. Speaking through a radio system to overcome the noise of the machinery, Phillips showed off the plant’s ability to shred the logs, treat them with adhesive, orient the strands — one of many technical marvels in Elkin — and stamp them into shape (photo 4).
“This is not flakeboard,” Phillips said, bristling at the derogatory term. “It is an engineered product, engineered to give the customer a product that will work.”
He ticked off the attributes that the plant carefully measures and controls: thickness, moisture content and orientation of the strands — all governed by another insider term, “PCL” or “process control logic” (photo 3).
To a first-time visitor, the row of logs awaiting their turn for the assembly line seemed impressively massive (photo 2). However, Phillips explained that the row of stumpage was relatively low, the result of rainy weather in previous days, which prevented trucks from harvest.
The plant opened in 1986 and has since grown to about twice its original size. Running at full capacity, the mill handles about 1,800 tons of stumpage per day. Still, it’s considered a small to medium-sized facility, by Weyerhaeuser standards.
Amid all the stumpage, a clear sustainability story also plays out at the mill. The facility is certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. It also gives back seedlings to private land owners who supply full-grown trees. Since 1997, Weyerhaeuser has given away some 5 million seedlings.
The plant also creates a lot of bark. Bark isn’t a strong enough ingredient for its OSB product. As a result, the bark is sold off to landscape companies as mulch.