CLICK to download a pdf of this article
Downie goes up in production
With strategic investments of capital, B.C.’s Downie Timber is utilizing technology throughout the sawmill to best utilize their timber, upping lumber production in the process.
By Paul MacDonald
Technology is not only in the production end of sawmills these days—it extends right into mill offices, and then some.
Once a week, management of the four divisions of B.C.’s Gorman Bros. Lumber—the home operation at the company’s board mill in Westbank, the reman plant in Oroville, Washington, the plywood mill in Canoe and the Downie Timber sawmill operation in Revelstoke—get together and talk about lumber production. And they do it all via Skype.
And among the things they talk about is feeding the sawmills for that production. The three company divisions in B.C. have a total log supply of 750,000 cubic metres, and it’s crucial that the tens of thousands of logs that make up that cut find the best home for production, whether that be with a Gorman Bros. operation—or even another mill that the company trades logs with.
“We try to tweak everything,” says Alan Smythe, operations manager of the Downie Timber sawmill. “It starts in the bush—we want to put the right log in the right program. We could send a premium fir log to Canoe, and we’ll get back a cedar log that will fit our program.” The two operations share similar wood baskets, so they can easily assist each other—especially now that they are both owned by the same shareholders.
Gorman Bros., which have been operating a high-production board mill in Westbank, just outside of Kelowna, for decades, purchased the Canoe plywood operation of Federated Co-operatives in 2012. The sale included Federated’s plywood plant, sawmill and the log harvesting and forestry operations within the Okanagan Timber Supply Area.
For many years, Gorman Bros. had owned part of Downie Timber, and two years ago, it purchased complete control of the business.
Gorman Bros.’ ownership of Downie Timber has benefited both the mill, and the town of Revelstoke over the years, says Smythe. Downie and its sister operation, Selkirk Cedar, employ 350, making it the town’s largest employer. And unlike many sawmills, they have a very young workforce: the average age is 28.
Steady investments in technology have kept Downie Timber a leader in lumber production. Over the last several years, upwards of $20 million has been invested in Downie Timber by Gorman Bros., in everything from new sawfiling equipment to automated grading equipment in the mill to new mobile equipment in the yard.
“Gorman Bros. has invested heavily in the future of the mill,” says Smythe. “They have invested in achieving high recovery and high value, to get everything possible out of the log.” Smythe estimates that since purchasing part ownership of the mill, Gorman Bros. has put some $90 million into the operation.
“Gorman Bros. were always very involved in Downie Timber when they were part owners, but now we see them weekly via Skype, and we work together more closely on decision making and planning,” he says.
Smythe adds that they also see them in person, too, of course. One of the co-founders of Gorman Bros., Ross Gorman, who is now 92-years-old, visits the mill on a regular basis. Ross’s son, Ron Gorman, now President and CEO of the company, is also a regular visitor to the mill, and is one of the participants in those Skype meetings.
The list of recent improvements at Downie Timber, which is a two-line operation, include a new Comact grade scanner at their trim line and a four inch edger infeed upgrade. An unscrambler upgrade is to come around year-end, which will increase capacity there.
The eight-inch Optimil duplex style gang (one box can run while the other slides out for a saw change) has seen an upgrade to its unscrambler and infeed system. The Optimil DLI small log line also saw an addition a couple years back, with a step feeder and increased storage capacity on the infeed to keep up with the mill’s growing consumption.
The stacker also saw its infeed, unscrambler and fork system replaced/upgraded resulting in a lighter touch to the lumber with the unscrambler; overall the changes have minimized the stacker as a constraint and contributed to new production highs. Mill-Tech and Iron Code Engineering worked on the stacker.
At the same time the mill did the trim line scanner, they changed out the lug loader for a Comact system, which has upped piece capacity. Among the projects to come is the replacement of the headrig scanner, with upgrades by Lewis Controls Inc., which has already done work at the mill.
The Lewis Controls Readyscan II retrofit recently installed at Downie Timber begins with an older generation 3D carriage scanning system in place. Lewis Controls left much of the old system intact—including the user interface, the operator’s console and the PLC—while replacing the scanner with new LMI Chromascan 2440 sensors and supplying a new ruggedized PC optimization computer. The net result is a system that collects data twice as fast as before, has improved scan resolution even on dark wet wood and is more reliable than the original, all without the need to retrain operators.
“On the optimization side, we have seven optimizers just in the mill, which is equal, in total, to about 100 scan heads, and all but one has been upgraded in the last three years,” explained mill manager Marce Angelozzi. The USNR–Newnes 6” edger is slated for an upgrade within the next two years.
“These projects and our optimization focus have allowed us to fine-tune all our cutting programs for optimum flexibility, maximize recovery and increase production while still focusing on improved quality.”
Outside contractors did much of the above work, with Downie Timber employees doing some of the prep work, and the mill ramp-up afterwards. Among the contractors are Mill-Tech, Tebo Mill Installations, New West Installations and Norjay Industries.
And the mill and contractors were very adept at installing the upgrades. The mill was able to get all this done with just a few one-week shutdowns. “Aside from that, we did not lose any run time,” says Angelozzi.
Illustrating the foresight and long term thinking of Gorman Bros, most of these investments and improvements were made during the depth of the industry downturn. This allowed the company to take advantage of some slack times on the part of contractors and suppliers, undoubtedly getting good value for the money spent. “That’s still tough to do when you are not making money, though,” added Smythe. But that
About 60 per cent of their production goes into the U.S. So when the U.S. economy and housing market gets a headache, it gives Downie Timber a huge migraine. But the U.S. market is coming back.
In 2011, the mill ran a modified two shift configuration most of the time, and produced 72.6 million board feet. By 2013, however, there was a significant increase, with production of 115 million board feet, on a two shift basis, illustrating how the vision and investments of the last few years have paid off in increased species and cut program production numbers.
The mill focuses on being flexible, and responsive to the market, and their customers. That said, they also work to be as productive as possible, and schedule production accordingly. They will usually do two weeks of cedar production, a week of hem/fir, a week of spruce, and then back to two weeks of cedar.
The investments the company has made into its reman operation, Selkirk Cedar, continue to deliver benefits. “Selkirk was originally developed as a reman plant for handling cedar from Downie Timber,” explained Smythe. ‘We saw that other people were taking our product, or similar cedar, and adding value to it, and getting the margin.”
Selkirk helps to ensure they are able to achieve maximum margin—and value—from a very sought after resource, Western Red Cedar. The most recent improvement at Selkirk was a McDonough secondary re-saw that allows the operation to double its production when it is running bevel products.
About 60 per cent of the 550,000 cubic metres of timber Downie Timber requires is secured timber, with the balance purchased wood. Their timber rights include some cedar, but there’s also a lot of hemlock, spruce, fir and balsam. Downie Timber’s Woodlands Group is responsible for managing and delivering approximately 183,000 cubic metres of logs annually from two Forest Licences. An additional 367,000 cubic meters is purchased annually from other forest companies, the BC Timber Sales program and private landowners.
Downie Timber and Selkirk Cedar are also industry partners (not shareholders) with the City of Revelstoke in the Revelstoke Community Forest Corporation (RCFC). An agreement with RCFC allows Downie Timber and Selkirk Cedar to purchase 30 per cent of RCFC’s annual harvest.
Gorman Bros. feels it is important for Downie Timber and all Gorman Bros. operations to have a “social licence” with their access to timber, and to work with the communities in which they operate, with community groups, and the province.
Downie Timber has a 35-acre site; the mill is right in the city of Revelstoke, meaning space is at a premium. They recently started storing logs at the sort yard of RCFC, on the outskirts of the city, to make operations more efficient and effective.
“It has really helped us out,” says Angus Woodman, log yard manager for Downie Timber. “There was a long break-up last year, and it took a while for people to get back to work—but July was a good month of hauling, so we had a lot of volume coming in over a short period of time.
“It’s one thing if you are a one-species mill, handling that volume. But when you are managing four species, and you have multiple sorts per species, and you need 10,000 cubic metres per species to meet the mill’s needs and it changes from week to week, it’s quite a bit different.”
They are both sorting for the mill, and for the market, noted Woodman. “You always need to be sorting for the right log—and it might not be the right log for Downie or another Gorman Bros. division. It might be for the market,” he explained.
Recent mobile equipment additions include two log loaders, a John Deere 2954 and a Tigercat 880, with butt ’n top grapples, and a Cat 980H wheel loader for the mill infeed. These new machines are in addition to the two other 980H machines they operate, and a Cat 330 butt ’n top and Madill 3800C.
From the log sort to the mill itself, there is a strong focus on safety at Downie Timber, and at Gorman Bros, with an extensive safety program in place. “Because there can be a lack of mill knowledge and experience with the new people coming in, we make sure they are trained safely,” says planer superintendent Kris Powell. They work using the buddy system; new employees are partnered with more experienced employees. And while the average age of employees is on the young side, there are still a number of long term employees at the mill, to buddy up with. Powell, for example, has been at the mill for 25 years.
“We have dedicated a large amount of resources—investing time and money—to equipment improvements, training and documentation related to safety,” added Marce Angelozzi. “Safety is really our number one consideration.”
Wood dust, of course, is an important issue these days for the industry, with the two explosions/fires at mill operations in B.C. “Mill dust is a constant challenge,” says Alan Smythe. “We have had independent auditors come in to review the mill. We have regular cleaning programs, with dedicated staff, and are always looking to see what we can do better.”
As Smythe and Angelozzi both noted, you never really finish sawmill improvements. Further projects are underway now. They are doing an upgrade in their packaging plant, with new strapping heads to their Samuel strapper, and installing a planer tensioning system. And there are plans for a Mill-Tech-designed extended infeed in the future.
Angelozzi says there is likely another five to 10 million board feet in annual production that they can achieve with some further relatively modest mill changes. “Anything on top of that, we’re going to have to look at some bigger projects. To get to that next level, we are going to require some major capital.”
The projects have already been discussed. “With the Gorman Bros. support, the projects will get us to where we need to be in the future,” he said.
One of the major projects is likely to be an expansion of kiln capacity at Downie Timber, beyond their current nine kilns. They have eight Custom Dry kilns–side loaders and one Aerodyne, which was recently refitted by USNR. All are being converted over to Relative Humidity-type drying, similar to their sister mills under the Gorman Bros umbrella.
Downie Timber is able to dry about 70 per cent of what they produce, with the balance dried off site, some of it at other Gorman facilities, such as at Canoe or in the case of boards, at Westbank, which has 24 kilns.
And there will be some upgrades at the planer in the near future. “We already have grading equipment in the mill, and we want to put that in the planer,” says Angelozzi. He noted that the mill always has a “To Do” improvement list. “We could carry out 30 projects if money were no object—and we could benefit from all of them. But we have to budget and prioritize.”
This page and all contents ©1996-2015 Logging and Sawmilling Journal (L&S J) and TimberWest Journal.