Article by Rich Donnell, Editor-In-Chief, Panel World January 2021
One thing I’ve always felt is that Panel World magazine offers an historical perspective on many aspects of the panel industry. One reason is because some of us on the editorial staff have been around a long time, just like this magazine has. And one aspect we thoroughly enjoy following is a plywood mill that—much like ourselves— has shown considerable staying power.
Take Coastal Plywood at Havana, Fla. for instance. Senior editor Jessica Johnson visited the plant in December to catch up on recent lathe and dryer projects. It prompted me to look back at the history of the plant and Panel World’s coverage of it, knowing we had visited there and written it up at least a few times.
Alas, I discovered that as you are reading this issue’s article on the plant (beginning on page 12), the plant is celebrating its 40th anniversary. How do I know? Because in researching our archives I quickly discovered that the first article on the Coastal-Havana plywood plant to appear in Panel World (which was actually called Plywood & Panel back then) was in the June 1981 issue.
Yep, the new Coastal Plywood mill began operation in February 1981, 13 months after land-clearing, and held an official opening dedication in May, when editors Bob Dixon and Steve Charles toured the facility for the article.
The plywood plant and its log procurement was integrated into an existing sawmill site, and as the article said, “is already one of the most modern plywood mills in the United States, featuring programmable logic controllers throughout and what may be the fastest green end in the country.”
Coastal was better known for its sawmill operations then, particularly hardwood sawmills, and building a plywood mill was seen as a bit of a risk, especially starting one up in the middle of a recession. But as president Paul Barringer stated in the article, “We have an expression—a philosophy—that all the fruit grows out on a limb and you have to go out there to get it.”
Annual production capacity was around 110MMSF. It started up with a Premier lathe, the first Durand rotary clipper in the U.S. (according to the article), two Coe (10- and 20-section) dryers and two 24-opening Williams- White presses.
Panel World editors visited the plant again in 1988 for an article in the July issue and in 2003 with the article appearing in the September issue.
In the 1988 article, written by John Stevenson, the mill was getting into more specialties, such as siding. It had upgraded the Premier lathe and modified the layup line from four booths to six to gain a double four-ply panel. By then the mill was producing 140MMSF annually.
Yours truly visited the plant in 2003 to see the new radiant barrier sheathing laminate line, and to see other improvements that had enhanced annual output to 212MMSF, including the addition of a third Coe dryer, a Spar-Tek reconditioned layup line with double five-ply capability, and a third Williams-White 30-opening press.
Now, a mere 18 years later, we’re publishing our fourth article on Coastal-Havana. It makes me wonder whom the next Panel World editor will be who stands on the Coastal catwalk and watches the steam rising from the ribbon.
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