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Cranking out the lumber at Idaho Forest Group
Attendees at the recent Small Log Conference got a first-hand look at Idaho Forest Group’s new Lewiston, Idaho upgrade and its focus on a HewSaw SL250 3.4 installation that is already cranking out six million board feet a week—with room for more production.
By Barbara Coyner
It was the forest industry’s version of the kid in the candy store as Idaho Forest Group (IFG) recently unveiled its new Lewiston, Idaho HewSaw SL250 3.4 installation to over 100 attendees of this year’s Small Log Conference. Billed as the largest HewSaw installation in North America, the high tech wonder has been the talk of the Pacific Northwest forest industry for months.
In operation for close to a year during the pre-conference tour in March, IFG had run its first log through in April 2014. The new set-up is already cranking out six million board feet per week, with room for expanded production. Mill manager Jesse Short is clearly impressed with the new Finnish line so far.
“It’s a wood-eating machine,” Short said of the HewSaw. The saw, laid out in a well-lit football field-length building, can handle logs from 4 inches to 16 ½ inches, top end, to a maximum log diameter of 21 ½ inches. It can process log lengths from eight feet to 20 feet, and has a line speed of 200 to 650 feet per minute.
The production line includes a Login system, four-sided cant chipping, a cant saw, ripsaw and cross saw, along with two board separators for edged sideboards, and a cant turner. The cant height specs are 3 inches to 15 3/8 inches; width in the chipper canter, 3 inches to 15 3/8 inches; the cant height in the rip saw, 2 ½ inches to 10 ½ inches; and the cant width in the rip saw, 3 inches to 15 3/8 inches.
The Lewiston line uses board separators to move edged sideboards on to conveyors running parallel to the HewSaw. Lumber from the center cant and the side board production all meet back up at the end of the line. Overall, the HewSaw can process multiple products, manufacturing up to eight edged sideboards from each log. The efficient system is monitored from a spacious perch up above the mill, where the operator has a wide-angle view of the mill’s activities. Here, the operator handles the infeed, watching several screens that give real time views of each machine centre.
The key companion equipment to the HewSaw, a Springer-Microtec CT log scanner, is no small part of the new mill set-up, scanning each log at a blazing three rotations per second. The scanner conveyor speed of 525 feet per minute makes the log scanner 100 times faster than your regular medical scanner. Calling the CT unit nothing more than a huge medical scanner, Springer-Microtec representative Norvin Laudon explained that the goal is to see all the defects in each log, evaluating knots, cracks and wane, which can affect total log quality.
“The goal is to unlock the shape of the log,” said Laudon. “Usually bucking and debarking come first, but they don’t debark at the IFG mill until later in the process. With the bark on, there is less checking and bluing. You get to see the real shape of the wood with the scanner. There are some logs you never want to reach your sawmill because maybe they are rotten, twisted or off-species.”
Right now, the scanner is only used for sorting and bucking, with future plans for optimization in sawing. As it creates a total three-dimensional profile for each log, the scanner focuses on features and properties of wood species common to the Intermountain West.
“One of the owners told me it’s always been his dream to saw from the inside out,” said Laudon, acknowledging that the first cut is critical, although sometimes it’s not worth cutting at all. “Some of this is pretty visionary and you get to know what you’re doing before you cut. Right now we are the only ones making the CT log scanner so we feel like we are 10 years ahead of the competition.”
In the current configuration, logs come into the mill and are first run through the CT scanner before heading to the chop saw and merchandizer, and then on to separate lines for the HewSaw, large logs, rejects and flare reduction. In the near future, a Springer-Microtec Logeye 306 will be operational to X-ray logs further before sending them to the sorting bins. Currently IFG has thirty sorts, with each having four sub-sorts, creating 120 destination sorts. Further plans call for a second Logeye 306 to be installed before the saw to further determine cutting options. The Logeye technology is used for scaling, sorting and grading timber, as well as for bucking and primary and secondary cutting optimizations
“The CT scan determines how the log is bucked and sorted,” said Laudon, explaining that Springer-Microtec optimization software calculates the cutting pattern with the highest yield, quality and value. Once both Logeyes are running, IFG’s production line should be running at up to a brisk 360 million board feet a year. Last year’s performance was already at 220 million board feet.
Tyler Levy is a technical advisor with HewSaw, and he has worked with Jesse Short and others to fine tune the new mill. HewSaw’s Levy came on board with the project soon after IFG bought the old sawmill from Potlatch Corporation in November 2011. At that point, IFG just ran the old mill, before clearing 14 acres and investing over $25 million into the new installation, which also boasts a state-of-the-art hydraulic power unit by Bosch Rexroth Canada, new conveyors and a Nicholson A8 high-speed debarker. Rawlings Industrial of Spokane was in charge of equipment installation.
Next in line will be a new planer, new shavings bins, and ultimately a remodel of the old large log mill. The planer will come in late summer, because as Short said, “we are wanting more knife marks per inch and reduced operating hours. This planer does both for us.”
Additionally, IFG is just about ready to move into its 6,600 square foot office/planning building.
Interestingly enough, the Lewiston mill site is no stranger to innovation. The old sawmill purchased by IFG was originally built by Weyerhaeuser in the 1920s as a spin-off from the largest white pine mill in the world, built at Potlatch, Idaho in 1906. Potlatch Forest Industries engineer Robert Bowling invented the revolutionary Pres-to-Logs at the Lewiston facility in 1929, and from there, Pres-to-Log machines went worldwide. Ironically, the Small Log Conference tour kicked off its bus tour at the Purcell Premium Pellet mill, which still operates several Pres-to-Log machines at its Moyie Springs, Idaho location.
As industry visionaries of the 1920s watched the last log drive on the Clearwater River (adjacent to the new IFG mill) in the 1970s, probably none could imagine the high tech sawmill that IFG would operate at the same location. And certainly none could imagine a mill running with less than a dozen people.
“It just blows your mind, even if you come from a sawmill background,” Russ Vaagen said of the IFG mill. Vaagen, vice-president of Vaagen Brothers Lumber in Colville, Washington, knows HewSaw equipment and small log milling first-hand, as the family-owned company has operated the Finnish-built saws for years.
As for mill manager Jesse Short, he’s counting on the new equipment to pay off for a number of reasons. “The main advantage to our new process is productivity and production costs,” he said. “The new lines allow for a quarter of labour costs with nearly 40 per cent more throughput vs. a traditional line. By presorting logs, you can maximize feed speed through saw design vs. running to the worst case saw design. Smaller gaps combined with higher feed speeds equals lower per unit costs.”
Short noted that major challenges were related to controls and optimization. “We had never controlled a line with so many axes of motion and this level of sophistication,” he explained, adding that there were challenges optimizing fibre yields, as well as production costs between the different modes of operation. Other tweaks to the system included the tuning of multiple control systems and hydraulic systems.
Short and other mill employees did their training at a similar mill at Fort William, Scotland, and the comprehensive hands-on training was yet one more reason IFG chose to go with HewSaw. “Part of it was that they were the right people,” Short said. “They fit in with my team. The guys were in it forever and their company is like our company. They like getting into new technology ahead of others.”
With plenty of wood fibre out there, IFG will nevertheless have to compete for logs, especially with so much of the surrounding area locked up in national forest. “I think Potlatch Corporation has a good plan on their lands,” Short assessed. “The State of Idaho does a good job, and their volumes could likely improve. We’ve seen some improvement on the federal side of things and expect that has the most upside potential.
“For us to reach our potential, supply will have to increase, or usage within the wood basket would have to change. I think there is more private wood available and if the market helps the landowners, it will also come to market.
“There’s definitely fibre out there, but you have to pay the most for it,” Short added. “But we’re competitive and in the next 24 months, we should hit our sweet spot.”
As Georgia sawmill owner Jack Jordan opened this year’s Small Log Conference, he echoed the thoughts of many who attended the SLC pre-conference tour. “They’re [IFG] going to set the standard.”
The Idaho Forest Group is counting on new equipment and the new production process to pay off in increased productivity and reduced production costs at its Lewiston, Idaho sawmill.
Idaho Forest Group Lewiston, Idaho Mill Upgrade Supplier List
Clarks Sheet Metal Dust Collection System
Core Engineering Detailed Engineering
CR Industrial Mechanical Installation & Fabrication
HewSaw Machines Primary Breakdown Equipment
IFG Fab Shop Fabrication of Structural Steel & Residual Conveyors
Linden Double Acting Step Feeders
Metal Detectors Inc. Metal Detector
MPM Controls & Optimization
Rawlings Industrial Mechanical Installation
Rexroth Canada Hydraulic Supply & Installation
Springer Log Sorting & Flare Reducer Systems
Springer Microtech CT Scanner
Stolberg Engineering Detailed Engineering
Versatile Fab & Machine Log Merchandiser, VLS & Mechanical Fabrication Supply
Western Integrated MCC & VFD Supply
Western States Fire Protection Fire Protection Systems
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