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INDUSTRIAL UPDATE 2024: West Fraser makes upgrades at plywood plant

A new dryer is being installed at the Williams Lake facility
West Fraser has two operations in Williams Lake - the sawmill and the plywood plant. (West Fraser photo)

Submitted by West Fraser’s Sandor BUCHI and Chad SWANSON

Special to the Tribune

Most of us have a dryer at home. But does yours cost over $5 million, weigh over 200,000 kilograms, measures 44 metres in length and take five weeks to install?

Those are the specs of the new West Fraser dryer that rolled into town earlier this month as Williams Lake Plywood began its dryer replacement project to replace one of its three existing dryers.

The new wood veneer drying machine will improve productivity, efficiency, safety and reliability, as well as helping the mill continue to ensure its high product quality, further adding to the resiliency of the company’s long-standing Williams Lake operations.

A proud history

West Fraser has a proud history in the community spanning nearly seven decades.

“Our business name, ‘West Fraser,’ reflects the company’s early founding days in this region, with mills in Quesnel and Williams Lake, all fed with timber from west of the Fraser River,” said Chad Swanson, general manager, Williams Lake Sawmill.

Since then, the company’s local operations have expanded and evolved to include the manufacture of plywood, predominantly for Canadian customers.

And now, many generations later, West Fraser employs nearly 500 people between its Williams Lake plywood and lumber mills and creates more than 830 additional indirect jobs for local logging and hauling contractors, forestry consultants, support services and more.

“Projects like the dryer replacements are really important to the ongoing success and sustainability of the mill, which benefits both our employees as well as the local community,” said Sandor Buchi, general manager, Williams Lake Plywood.

The importance of dryers for making plywood

Plywood is used for a number of important applications, including flooring, roofing and walls. It is made from multiple layers, or ply, of wood veneer glued together. The wood grain of each layer lays perpendicular to its adjacent layers.

Wood veneer drying is a crucial step in plywood manufacturing. Proper moisture levels are critical to ensuring the correct stability, two-way strength and stiffness and strength‐to‐weight ratio of the finished product. Every single layer needs to have the correct moisture level to achieve high product quality.

This is why the dryer replacement project is so central to the quality of the plywood and overall energy efficiency.

West Fraser employees are assisting in many aspects of the project including decommissioning and recycling the old dryer.

Exciting investments in local operations

As West Fraser makes investments in its infrastructure, it also sees the importance of giving back locally.

“We share a responsibility for the communities where we operate that goes beyond providing safe, sustainable employment,” said Swanson. “We are proud to continuously give back in meaningful ways that help fund local priorities.”

For information on how to make a community investment application to West Fraser, contact

Sandor Buchi is the general manager, West Fraser Williams Lake Plywood and Chad Swanson is the general manager of West Fraser Williams Lake Sawmill. They were asked to submitted an update on West Fraser for the Williams Lake Tribune publication, Industrial update.

READ MORE: Forestry documentary Silvicola screens in Williams Lake April 3

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