Even though demand for wood products remains far below peak volumes, Boise Cascade is preparing for the next boom.
The Boise, Idaho-based company is spending $11 million at its Medford plywood plant to replace an aging dryer with one that boasts 50 percent more capacity.
"With the market like it is, this is the right time," said David Elliott, Boise Cascade's Western Oregon Region engineering manager. "Seasonally, you would prefer to do it during the winter when you aren't producing as much. Summer demand is usually greater, but the demand has fallen so short with the down market."
The project will involve more than a dozen contractors installing duct work, insulation, steam piping, electrical and concrete and 100 workers at any given time during the final three months of the year, Elliott said.
Infrastructure work will be completed in September, with installation of the dryer beginning in late September or early October, he said.
Boise's expenditure is a positive sign, said Ron Fox, executive director at Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc.
"A good measure of the long-term prosperity of industrial (operators) is to look at their annual or periodic capital investment," Fox said.
"Almost every company has to invest in capital facilities to remain competitive in the marketplace, and this is a sign they are making a long-term commitment to their operations in the area. Boise is obviously looking way to the future because the general housing market is still very slow across the United States. That's a sector with a huge impact on our region."
The dryer is designed by Raute Precision of Finland, and parts, manufactured in China, are due to arrive in mid-September.
Boise's workhorse dryers date back to the 1960s and 1970s. After a fire destroyed much of the plant in 1998, all six dryers were refurbished and put back into use. A seventh dryer, with newer technology, was installed in 2008.
After the latest addition to the lineup was a approved, Boise removed two of the older dryers.
The new dryers are distinctly different, Elliott said. Air flow in the older units is longitudinal, and they typically run at 300 to 400 horsepower. The new generation jet dryers force air downward and can possess up to 1,400 horsepower. The newest dryer will have 20 sections, double the length of the one built in 2008.
The length allows for a quicker thus greener drying process.
"Each section has its own motor, so there is more air and more efficient use of air coverage." Elliott said.
Air in the dryers reaches 370 to 390 degrees, he said.
The dryer box itself is 150 feet long, 25 feet wide and 20 feet tall with six decks, capable of handling three 8-by-4 sheets of veneer each. The previous generation dryers maxed out at 16 feet wide and 13 feet high, limiting them to four decks.