By Paul MacDonald
The Princeton, B.C. sawmill of Weyerhaeuser Canada has seen some major equipment upgrades in the last few years—but there is more to come, as the sawmill continues its efforts to make operations more efficient, and reduce costs.
The two-line sawmill in the B.C. Interior turns out upwards of 300 million board feet of SPF lumber annually, and is undergoing a multi-year upgrade.
“Princeton has always been an efficient sawmill for Weyerhaeuser,” says John Cimbaro, mill maintenance superintendent. “When we looked at upgrading, we took a look at whether to go for a completely new mill, or if there was a scenario where we could do an upgrade in stages.”
The mill opted for option number two. Mill management felt they could use the upgrade capital more efficiently by keeping and maintaining some of the equipment that does not need to be replaced—and there is a lot of good, solid equipment in the mill, explained Cimbaro.
The mill runs two 10-hour shifts a day, Monday to Thursday, and a 12-hour afternoon shift each day, Friday to Sunday. And the upgrading is being done without shutting the mill down, so the crews have a very slim time window to work within, considering that schedule.
“It’s not like the mill is shut down Friday night, and we have until Monday morning,” says Cimbaro. “We have time windows of about 10 or 12 hours to do the work. But we have good teams on the engineering, maintenance and operations sides, and they are now used to working in those short time windows.”
They started off by working on some of the infeed parts of the mill, with three new Wave feeders from Comact, for both short wood and tree length wood. “That allows us to be flexible, in terms of the wood coming in, so if there are some areas where it is beneficial for us to do full length logging, we can capture that vs. just doing short length,” said Cimbaro.
Up next was the mill building. One of the biggest hurdles they had was the mill building was an older timber frame structure, with a fairly low ceiling. It would have been difficult to install some of the newer equipment, which requires increased power, and drives that sit high. “That structure was kind of limiting us to how we could improve the mill.”
The solution was a new steel building from Behlen Building Industries.
“We decided to actually build over top of the existing mill with the brand new building, with a building that would give us the height we need and for making maintenance functions more efficient.”
They also installed a system for making heating the building more efficient, with heat drawn from the upper portion of the building, and discharged into the basement. Cimbaro noted that they are very mindful of the dust situation, with all of their heating systems located outside the mill building.
“That has given us a brand new envelope for the equipment—and now we’re at the stage when we are starting to replace a lot of the primary breakdown equipment. It’s not a full line replacement, because again some of the equipment we have is fine—it was built well, and is running well, and there is no need to replace it.”
Optimil is supplying the primary breakdown equipment upgrades.
“We are upgrading the areas of primary breakdown where we need to upgrade them, such as more horsepower, and putting top and bottom board profilers in front of the two new 10” vertical double arbor gangs, one for each line.”
When the primary breakdown upgrade is complete, it will give the mill much more flexibility on log handling.
They have a large log line, and a small log line at Princeton. But at certain times of the year, they receive pretty much all large wood from the bush, at the mill. “So we’re under-utilizing the small log line at times like that, and relying on the large log line to handle the majority of the throughput at the mill,” explains Cimbaro.
In the summer, however, the mill receives a lot of smaller wood, so the small log line is very busy, and the large log line, less so.
“We are adding a new Optimil balanced cut horizontal double arbor saw box to the small line. We have made provisions to add a sideboard profiler in the future should the need arise to reduce the number of flitches coming to the existing board edger.
“With this upgrade, we will be able to have both lines run any size wood, so they are going to be very similar in terms of capacity and speed and wood diameter, with top and bottom profiling on both lines, so we can put more volume through the two lines and not overwhelm the edger.”
That way, they can fully capitalize on whatever size wood is coming into the mill, and not be limited with the log diameter.
A major goal, and it has been achieved so far, is to do all the upgrades without shutting the mill down.
“There has been almost no downtime,” says Cimbaro. “For example, at the front end, with the Comact wave feeders, they were built around an existing quadrant feeder. So we started one wave feeder to offset the quad feeder, and once that feeder was up, we put in another wave feeder on the other side, that fed the second mill line. That allowed us to bypass the quad feeder, and demolish the quad feeder, and install the third Wave feeder where the quad feeder infeed had been.
“We did that all while the mill was running.”
With each aspect of the upgrade, crews have taken almost a “pit stop” kind of approach to doing the work, where the work is well planned out, the equipment is there, the tools are all there—and they can just get in there and do the work, quickly and safely.
“There is no resource that we have to wait for,” says Cimbaro. “It is all there, ready to go, because they have to be finished by the time the next shift starts.”
A lot of the success of the project revolves around organizing and communications, he added.
“The shift on the weekend would be done at 3:30 in the morning, and we would have the mill until 3 p.m. the next afternoon.
“We would let operations know what work we were doing and what components we were moving or replacing, and they would have that area devoid of logs or lumber and the equipment cleaned. All we had to do is go in there, lock out equipment, and go.”
Cimbaro noted that the mill worked closely with contractors to see that they had all that they needed in terms of equipment, such as lifts, cranes and telehandlers.
On the maintenance side, a lot of the crew was there to assist during equipment installs, which offers benefits. “The guys working with the new equipment were there so when we went to start things up, they were familiar with the equipment. The learning curve was minimal—they knew exactly how the equipment ran, and the start-ups were really non-events.”
Taking a phased approach to equipment upgrades also meant that the job was more manageable, and the crews they had became very familiar with the mill, said Cimbaro.
A handful of people were doing the work vs. the 60 or 70 workers that might be involved with a full-on short term mill upgrade. “Those six to eight guys doing the work are really familiar with our mill, our lock-out systems and our safety program. There wasn’t a lot of orientation required with each phase—they knew what had to be done, and were ready.”
Princeton mill staff toured a number of mill facilities in B.C. and Alberta as part of the process of determining what equipment to go for. But Cimbaro said the Princeton upgrade looks to be unique, in terms of their building approach.
“Like a lot of other people, we cherry-picked what we thought would work best for our situation—but in terms of the mill overbuilding, I don’t know if I’ve heard or seen someone approach it quite like how we did.”
For example, they had 10,000 pound columns being installed in the mill—while it was operating. “You’d see this huge column being lowered into the mill onto its foundation, and all the machinery working around it, and lumber flowing around it.”
In terms of the equipment, and what should go, and what should stay, the mill has some equipment that has stood the test of time—and continues to operate just fine. “We had Nicholson A7 debarkers installed in 1997, and I can’t say enough about them,” says Cimbaro. “They are excellent, bulletproof debarkers. We’ve done some minor upgrades to them, but not a lot.”
In primary breakdown equipment, they have Kockums CanCar (now USNR) double length infeed and canting equipment. “They are an older design, but they have been really well maintained,” said Cimbaro.
In terms of line speeds, they will be faster, though Cimbaro says they had some specific goals there not necessarily related to speed. “It’s not going to be as fast as some of the lines we’ve seen out there. What we decided, early on, is to put in equipment that runs reliably and steady vs. equipment that runs very quickly, and we might have failures because of wear or damage.
“Our philosophy is to run the equipment at the speed that we need to run it. But to run it with a minimum gap, and to carry out good maintenance.”
Weyerhaeuser Princeton partnered with several contractors and suppliers on the project. Bill Wolfe has worked with the mill on the design of a number of changes to the mill. They have also worked closely with suppliers Comact and Optimil. Kinetic Construction is doing a lot of mechanical work, and Summit Electrical is doing the electrical.
While the current focus is on primary breakdown equipment, Cimbaro noted there are also some “side projects”, such as replacing their edger optimizer with a new MPM system. “That way both our trimmer and edger optimizer will be the same, and there will be some synergies that we can gain from that.”
MPM Engineering was a key partner, in terms of programming and optimization.
“One of the benefits of using MPM was that we are pretty close to their offices. And in the past, we’ve been kind of a test site for MPM trying out new things, which has worked out really well.” He notes they were the first to get MPM’s new trimmer optimizer software. “We’ve done some work with them on log turning accuracy, which has delivered benefits. There is a lot of good work that has come from our relationship with MPM.”
Not to simplify it, but the Princeton mill project has been at times been similar to assembling a very, very large Lego set.
“It’s essentially that—but a very complicated Lego set,” said Cimbaro. “You are really swapping out pieces, but like everything, the devil is in the details. You can put in a piece, and take out a piece, but if the chuting on a conveyor is not right, you are going to have problems with that conveyor.
“It can be something as simple as that, so you need to have high attention to details. Most times, it goes right. But sometimes, it does not go right. But we have a good crew down there so that if it wasn’t right, it can be resolved really quickly.”
Everyone—mill employees, contractor crews—are all very aware of the costs of even a short shutdown. “All the guys on the maintenance, mechanical and operations side are cognizant of that, so it’s all hands on deck to make sure the new equipment works—and if there is anything that needs to be tweaked or modified, it’s done quickly.”
Cimbaro says they have a good variety of experienced, long term employees and people who are newer to the mill. Some have been at the mill for 20 or 30 years, others only a few years.
“So we’ve got some people who have been here a long time, and they have lots of mill knowledge and experience, and people who have been here a short time, and they bring in new ideas. It’s a really good mix.”
There has been plenty of work done on the phased upgrade, but there is still a ways to go, notes Cimbaro.
“The front end of the mill is all done, with the wave feeders. Next will be the primary breakdown, and stacker, and then we’ll likely move on to the planer and kilns after that.
“If you look at where we were when we started this upgrade, and where we are going to end up, we’re going to essentially have pretty much a brand new mill at a fraction of the cost. At the same time, we’re also utilizing a lot of the equipment that was already here, and designed for the speeds that we need—it was running well, so there was no need to replace it.”
And though the mill will be running well after all the upgrades, further changes, as with all sawmills, are inevitable. And they’ve planned for that.
“We’ve left space in the mill for further equipment changes so, at some point down the road, whoever comes after me, if they want to make changes, they are not painted into a corner. There is space for those changes.”
On the Cover:
The Princeton, B.C. sawmill of Weyerhaeuser Canada has seen some major equipment upgrades in the last few years—but there is more to come, as the sawmill continues its efforts to make operations more efficient, and reduce costs. The two-line sawmill in the B.C. Interior turns out upwards of 300 million board feet of SPF lumber annually, and is undergoing a multi-year upgrade (Cover photo by Paul MacDonald).
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