MONON, Indiana – With three plants in the U.S. and one in Canada, Rockland Flooring churns out several million square feet of laminated trailer flooring (LTF) annually.
Yes, that’s square feet, a different measure than board feet, which much of the wood products industry uses to gauge production. Todd Field, engineering manager at the Rockland plant in Monon, Indiana, explained that to us.
Todd described LTF in terms of the familiar butcher-block configuration for a kitchen countertop. “It looks like butcher block countertop a foot wide and as long as a van trailer,” he explained. “Eight of those make a kit, and each kit makes a trailer floor.”
Rockland Flooring is headquartered in Red Wing, Minnesota. That’s where the company was founded in 1992 by Marc Chorney, who now serves as chairman of the board of directors.
Rockland also has a fifth plant that manufactures unfinished wood cabinets that are sold through the chain of Menards home improvement stores. The company employs approximately 500 people.
Todd has been working for Rockland since 2014. He previously spent his professional life working in the wire industry. As an industrial technician, he welcomed the opportunity to jump to a new and quite different industrial sector.
Did Todd bring along experience in wood products? No, but at age 52 the Hoosier State native remembers well the hydraulic log splitter that his father built for processing firewood in the 1970s.
Rockland Flooring does not have logging or sawmill operations. “We purchase rough lumber from dozens of small producers,” said Todd, mills in the Midwest and also a few in Canada.
Rockland Flooring has become a leader in the manufacture of laminated flooring for trailers, containers, and truck bodies. Integral to its growth has been the development of a group of patented and trademarked products – both undercoat and final coat – to protect the flooring. The Rockland family of coating products are designed to not only make flooring last longer, but also to add strength. Much of the company’s manufacturing processes are proprietary, including its use of natural-gas fueled dehumidification kilns from Nyle Systems.
Todd was able to share some information about the Nyle kilns. He is the project manager on an ongoing installation at the Monon plant. By the end of 2022, eight Nyle dry kilns will be operating at the Monon plant. When Todd talked with TimberLine in late June, four were already in place.
Each kiln has a capacity of 80,000 board feet of lumber. Loading is done with a forklift. The natural gas fuel that heats the kilns comes from the grid. Yes, that took some doing and working with the local utility, including running new gas lines.
Why did Rockland select Nyle Systems dehumidification kilns? “We chose them because we needed a high-performance, customizable solution that did not require steam,” said Todd.
Steam is too capital intensive, explained Todd. The company wanted to couple efficiency and economy in drying operations with excellent performance and finished lumber quality.
When weighing the utility and economy of dehumidification versus steam, the amount of fuel that must be introduced to generate steam must be factored into the equation.
Nyle Systems, which is headquartered in Brewer, Maine, works with each customer to tailor solutions around the parameters the customer sets. It offers kiln solutions that include dehumidification, gas, and steam. It also offers pallet and firewood heat treating systems. The company also supplies kiln controls, parts, and accessories.
Rockland Flooring air dries lumber on its yard before it goes into the kilns. The Monon plant has plenty of room, with 50 acres for storing and air-drying green lumber. Several buildings house the manufacturing processes.
The company buys primarily red and white oak lumber. “We recently phased out the use of ash because it is no longer readily available,” said Todd. Species are segregated and dried separately according to different schedules.
The process of drying lumber to be used in making laminated flooring is very particular. “It’s critical,” noted Todd, to the lamination process that follows. Because the processes at Rockland Flooring are closely guarded, he could not tell us the moisture content to which wood is dried. However, he emphasized one important point. “Following a proper drying schedule is crucial to maximizing the strength of the finished floor,” he said.
The installation of the new kilns, which are equipped with remote monitoring technology, is being done by the Nyle Systems staff. “Nyle uses dedicated crews to install the kilns,” said Todd, and that’s important to him. The crews are experienced in the equipment they are installing and proficient at completing every part of the project to exacting specifications.
Todd refers to each of the two groups of kilns – the four already installed and the group of four set to be completed by year’s end – as a bank.
To give an idea of the variety of configurations that Nyle Systems can provide to customers, consider the following generic example. A high temperature Nyle dehumidification kiln that holds up to 350,000 board feet and operates at 160 degrees can remove 20,000 pounds of water from the lumber daily on a standard schedule – with precision temperature and relative humidity control.
Nyle can provide a wide range of solutions with its dehumidification kilns, depending on what species of wood a customer is drying, moisture content requirements, and other considerations. It offers a very high temperature (240 degrees) kiln drying system designed for species that dry quickly. The modular design and construction of Nyle dehumidification kilns means they can be expanded in the future for any capacity. And with a gas-fueled furnace, they require no boiler or steam.
Nyle standard dry kiln capacities range from 300 board feet to 300,000 board feet. Not only can Nyle provide drying solutions to companies of every size, but the modular kiln design makes it easier for companies to expand capacity as they grow.
Monon is a town of less than 2,000 residents in northwest Indiana. It is about midway between Chicago to the north and Indianapolis to the south, each about 100 miles away.
The region around Monon is one of the centers of trailer manufacturing. Many customers are nearby, and Rockland Flooring does not deliver or install its products. “Most customers arrange their own pickups,” said Todd. Rockland also has customers throughout the northeastern U.S.
Rockland Flooring has five core values that encapsulate the ‘soul’ of its company. They are prominently displayed on the company’s website and read, “Honesty and integrity, family before work, continual improvement, team before self, and be easy to do business with.”
Rockland Flooring puts a high priority on strong customer service. In its mission statement, Rockland outlines its guiding principles, one of which is to “supply (customers) with high-quality products and exceptional service.”
The mission statement also includes providing a safe and fulfilling work environment, social responsibility, and being an industry leader by adding value. Improving, innovating, and doing it all with engagement in the community, Rockland Flooring strives for this balance as it creates value for its customers and shareholders.
The company’s array of products to protect and enhance the natural properties of wood include Wax Guard™, which reduces water absorption and is not slippery when wet, to Defender Max™ floors, which are engineered to carry more weight while contributing less weight to the total load.
Rockland Flooring is a member of the Indiana Hardwood Lumbermen’s Association and the National Hardwood Lumber Association.
If it seems as though there’s a lot going on at Rockland Flooring, there is. And that is just the sort of environment that Todd relishes. “I like working to continuously improve the process,” explained Todd. “That’s exciting and satisfying.” Right now he is immersed in continuous improvement in the process of optimally drying the lumber that will be used in the company’s product.
In his free time, Todd usually enjoys home repair and home and garden activities. Another project also has captured his interest recently. “I like learning how to fly a drone,” he said. No, he’s not building one at this time, but perhaps one day when time permits.