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Canadian mills: Quality you can count on

July 7/14, 2014; Volume 28/Number 2

By Ken Ryan

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It is said that location is everything, and for hardwood flooring manufacturers in Canada—home to 10% of the world’s forests—that means access to five major forest regions, each with its own specific climate, topography and soil.

Several different types of wood that are used for flooring are grown in Canadian forests, including birch, ash, beech, oak and maple. Yellow birch, for example, has a grain that is similar to maple’s and is highly sought after in furniture and flooring.

According to flooring professionals north of the border, one of the reasons Canada’s wood is of such good quality is because of the climate. The coldness makes the wood grow slower, which results in tighter and stronger product with more consistent tones of color.

Tight growth rings, strong fibers and consistent grain patterns are the characteristics that give Quebec hardwood its strength and durability. Quebec-based flooring companies, including Mirage, Mercier, Lauzon and Preverco, have benefited from the climate and richness of forestland to produce quality products.

And yet, access to quality raw materials is only part of the process; the manufacturing method must also be at a high level, according to Luc Robitaille, vice president of marketing at Boa-Franc, makers of the Mirage brand. “Offering superior quality products has always been our No. 1 priority,” he said. “Therefore, maintaining this high level of quality is our daily challenge, a goal each of our employees strives for.”

The name Mirage is synonymous with quality, and it is known throughout the industry for its exacting standards.

As Robitaille explained, “Each day, hundreds of quality checks are being performed throughout the production process, from the purchase of raw material to the logistics involved in the delivery to the customers. Nothing is left to chance. Anyone can [make] a quality product. What is more difficult is to [provide] quality all the time. We all know it’s harder to stay on top than it is to get there in the first place. That’s why we work hard every day, taking nothing for granted and constantly striving to reinvent ourselves.”

Quality manufacturing is part of Mercier’s heritage as well. More than a decade ago, the company streamlined its manufacturing and raw materials pipeline by bringing on a sawmill that today provides 100% of the raw materials used by Mercier. Michel Collin, director of marketing, said beyond the manufacturing capability, drilling down to the smallest details is important. “We know we need to do things differently to be recognized in the U.S. market and that we need to offer [additional] value that domestic manufacturers cannot,” he said. “It all starts with the commitment to the quality program every day—from a rigorous manufacturing process, quality control and monitoring, to vertical integration and the training of our employees. In the end it’s not only quality production overall but it’s design and style of our product as well.”

What goes into making hardwood flooring of such high quality? It is, quite simply, an extensive and rigorous quality control process. For Mirage, it moves from the worker in the plant to the sales reps in the field. “Our employees pursue the same goal: going above and beyond customer expectations and constantly adapting to their needs,” Robitaille said. “This is what Mirage’s reputation is built on and what we’ll continue to work on each day. The numerous quality awards received in the last decade—more than 23—prove our efforts are worth it. It doesn’t mean we have to stop because of our success; quality is a journey, not a destination.”’

World-class manufacturing operations

Not resting on its laurels, Canadian manufacturers continue to develop and market innovative technology such as sawmill operations that optimize the yield of every tree. These new, highly automated milling technologies produce more wood from fewer trees. Only a maximum of 5% of each cut tree is not used. This 5% is comprised of branches, which the tree cutters leave on the forest floor in order to biodegrade and aid future tree growth.

Wickham Hardwood Flooring, located near Drummondville, Quebec, said it reinvests a significant portion of its yearly earnings back into its facilities. In 1996, the company sought to enhance its strategic position by implementing an automated production line for varnishing its hardwood floorboards. Since then, the company has added a new sawmill, kilns, a processing plant and a finishing line.

“The reputation of Canadian mills is built on a strong expertise of the wood manufacturing process—from the drying stage to warehousing in perfect temperature and humidity conditions,” explained Etienne Chabot, vice president of marketing at Preverco.

That effort has not gone unnoticed among consumers. “We recently did a survey among our customers,” Chabot said, “and Made in Canada remains one of the top five reasons why they prefer to buy Canadian hardwood vs. a substitute product.”

 

In pursuit of quality 

Flooring retailers who have toured Mirage’s production facility in Saint-Georges, Quebec, come away impressed by the quality control that takes place, even noting the cleanliness of the plant. “It is so clean you could eat off the floor,” said Scott Milligan, owner of Heartland Wood Flooring, a Pompano Beach, Fla.-based retailer who called the tour a “must-see” for anyone in the flooring industry. The following “indicator of quality/quality checks,” as Mirage refers to it, is a review of what is done in the plant in terms of quality control. According to Robitaille, the points below are also indicators of quality that customers should look for when shopping for high quality hardwood floors.

1) The wood is stable and durable At Mirage, production doesn’t start until the wood has dried for as long as each species requires. This is to ensure that the floor won’t shrink or split in the years to come.

2) Straight, uniformly thick boards Workers place a few boards on the floor next to one another. The boards should fit together perfectly, with no noticeable variations in thickness.

3) Small and consistent V joints When placed alongside one another, the boards form V joints where they meet. Perfect joints will help the floor stay resilient and make it easier to clean.

4) Consistent color from one box to the next Color applied deep within joints gives floors a more uniform appearance. Workers watch to make sure that color is consistent from one box to another.

5) A clean, sanitary surface Antimicrobial agents added to the floor’s finish help surroundings stay clean and sanitary.

6) UV protection to fight yellowing Bright light and sun can cause wood from a naturally pale species to yellow. UV protection in the finish can reduce and slow this process.

7) Highest standard of finish Finish needs to be applied in just the right amount—neither too thin nor too thick—to avoid a plastic look. The beauty of the wood should shine through.