ONE of Colac’s largest employers is set to increase timber production, announcing a $6-million project at its Irrewarra mill.
AKD Softwoods has unveiled its second major upgrade to the mill in 18 months, with the installation of a state-of-the-art combination gangsaw line at its Irrewarra processing site.
The German-made combination gangsaw will increase log production by more than 75,000 cubic metres or 40 per cent of today’s production.
AKD chief executive officer Shane Vicary said the gangsaw project would allow the company’s total annual production to be more than 700,000 cubic metres of plantation-grown radiata pine logs.
“It’s really about increasing our capacity at the Irrewarra sawmill by installing one big new machine centre and then a whole lot of other additional facility upgrades to accommodate that increase,” Mr Vicary said.
“It’s about a 75,000 cube input increase but in real terms we’re going to go from cutting 1.3 logs a minute to cutting 1.8 logs a minute,” he said.
“I’m hopeful we can actually get to 2.4 logs a minute so it’s giving us the ability to cut twice the volume we are today, which is a 140,000-cubic-metre increase.”
Mr Vicary said AKD had steadily increased production following the industry experiencing a “tough time” in 2011 and 2012.
“We did it really tough in 2011-12 and what we learnt out of that is that our production costs were just simply too high,” he said.
“So these upgrades to Irrewarra aren’t directly driven by creating new jobs, but it is about looking after the business and the jobs we have today and it’s about re-investment in our assets so that we’re a more successful business moving forward.”
But Mr Vicary said the project would create flow-on employment opportunities. “There will be additional job creation as we’ll be taking more timber to the market and we will be bringing more logs to Colac,” he said.
“So by its very nature it will generate more employment and obviously that flows onto employment around the town, in addition these logs would have otherwise been exported, and the replacement timber would have been imported, so this preserves jobs in regional Australia.”
Contractors will start installing the machine at Irrewarra in July.
Mr Vicary said ensuring AKD remained competitive against domestic competition and international timber companies was his company’s highest priority.
“AKD directly competes with large domestic and international companies, which have sawmills and businesses that are currently vastly bigger than us,” he said.
“They’re importing wood from Europe, New Zealand and North America so we actually have to grow and we have to get more efficient to be able to compete, to grow and to prosper.
“We sell our timber to over 300 different customers throughout the eastern seaboard of Australia, and our customers have certainly encouraged us to grow due to the quality and service we provide, we have a very good reputation.
“The investment is also another signal of clear faith that we have in the Irrewarra production team,” Mr Vicary said.
The project complements AKD’s current $6.2-million investment at its Colac site, which includes the construction of new continuous drying kilns and natural gas-fired boilers, bringing the total investment in this financial year to $12 million.