JM Champeau manufactures quality dimension components with the use of optimized ripping equipment and integration from the log to the part.

A Champeau employee processes wood pieces using the Unimat 23 EL moulder from Weinig.

With a rich history dating back to the 1870s, when the Champeau family began sawmilling in the woods of Northern New England and Quebec, JM Champeau Inc. continues its success in the wood-based business, offering a variety of dimension components, with high quality hard maple squares and dowels at the heart of its product offerings.

The company, which currently employs 125 workers, has been growing steadily for the past 20 years, except for a contraction in 2007 when the rapid rise of the Canadian dollar, combined with the downturn in the North American market, limited the demand for the products of many of its customers. Sales Manager Eric Paradis says that Champeau is now through half of financial year 2008 and is back on the growth path.

“Our growth philosophy is to develop our customer base methodically by finding people in niche markets who need the quality product we make, adding them to our list of partners and finding a way to all grow our businesses together,” says Paradis. “By using innovation and technology, we expect to generate 10 percent of solid growth every year in building our customer base.”

Technology has played a part in the continual growth. Champeau built a new facility six years ago with optimized ripping and computerized workstations, and it also runs its own training program that integrates tools such as Kaizen problem solving methods and Toyota manufacturing principles. The company pays attention to smaller technological advancements as well.

“We are constantly working on getting small interesting projects, such as ink marking of parts for traceability and better tooling for short setups,” says Paradis. “We tackle small projects, as our main equipment is modern and very productive.”

Total Process Management

Champeau is integrated from the log to the part, ensuring fiber quality and consistency. Paradis says the company has the ability to turn orders rapidly and to deliver mix orders with different types of dimension and squares.

“We deliver just in time,” he says. “We have the competencies to follow tight specifications. We are the only link between a standing tree and the specified part required. We control fiber, sawing patterns, drying and finishing.”

The company uses a double taper sawing technology with optimizers at all stations, which allows cutting along the woodgrain for maximum quality. “We are at the cutting edge of technology,” says Paradis. “The next step is a 3-D scanner with color vision, to come this summer, at the edger.”

For drying, the company uses both traditional kilns and vacuum drying equipment. “Vacuum drying allows us to dry whiter,” says Paradis. “The absence of oxygen in the process limits the oxidation of the wood. It also allows us to turn smaller batches quicker.”

Champeau also offers face gluing, butcher block construction, high quality moulded parts, dowelling, sanding, assembly of special products and tenoning.

Paradis says he does not see the company veering from component manufacturing into finished products. “We are experts at producing parts, blanks and material to end users,” he says. “The marketing approach of selling a finished product is completely different than selling components. We want to stay focused on what we do best.”

sawing technology with optimizers at all stations, which allows cutting along the woodgrain for maximum quality. The company also uses both traditional kilns and vacuum drying equipment.

Who’s Buying?

According to Paradis, Champeau’s customers are mostly OEMs and end-users making high-quality wood products. The company sells to North America, Europe and Asia, and has customers in 12 different countries.

“We sell to various industries that do different end products,” Paradis says. These segments include the furniture, kitchen cabinet, housing, sporting goods and leisure industries. “We also have various customers making specialized packaging skids and pallets, van floor bodies and more. We offer vacuum dried maple, color and grain pattern management, cut to size in thick sizes [up to 3 inch solid and 5 inch glued].”

The company’s location also has played a part in its success. “We are well located geographically,” Paradis says. “The Vermont-New Hampshire-Maine-New York hardwood forests are surrounding us, and we are four hours from Boston and two hours from the Montreal container terminal.”

An Eye Toward the Future

For lumber, Champeau uses local species such as hard maple, birch, red oak and soft maple. A state-of-the-art computerized grading line is used to evaluate the quality of each board according to National Hardwood Lumberman Assn. standards. The company also is delving into the use of certified lumber.

“We are getting our FSC certification next month,” says Paradis. “Some customers are asking questions but we have not yet advertised the fact that we can offer certified products. We do get some certified logs and the number of certified suppliers is growing every month. We also have the proximity points for both fiber origin and transformation on the East Coast down to Baltimore for LEED building projects.”

In addition to the move toward sustainable products, Paradis sees other promising trends in the future for the North American wood industry.

“The rise in freight costs will make imports more expensive,” he says. “The rapid development in China’s standard of living and the qualified labor shortage they see will raise their costs and make them less attractive for North American customers.”

Paradis does not anticipate any drastic changes to the company’s business model in the near future. “We are committed to innovation in three specific areas: manufacturing process, products and management,” he says. “We believe that excellence and innovation in those three areas lower costs, keep customers interested in our products and allow us to go where we want to go. We plan on continuing on our existing strategy to always innovate, excel and grow.”

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