With a $12 million upgrade under its belt, western Forest Products’ Cowichan Bay sawmill will be able to see increases in both value and recovery from its coastal wood diet.
By Paul MacDonald
BC’s Western Forest Products has seen some ups and downs in its _0-plus year history. The company was established in the 1960s by Herb Doman, of Doman Industries, one of the last great lumber giants on the BC Coast. And even though Western Forest Products and Doman Industries were significant industry players on their own, they were often in the shadow of coastal forest giants such as Weyerhaeuser and, before that, the legendary MacMillan Bloedel.
But fast forward to 2007 and Doman Industries has since been folded into Western Forest Products, and the resulting company has continued to grow, thanks to several strategic moves. The most recent, about a year ago, came when it acquired Cascadia Forest Products Ltd from a subsidiary of Brookfield Asset Management Inc for $220 million.
The Cascadia deal was said to be a significant milestone in Western Forest Products executing its strategic plan of creating a coastal lumber producer capable of competing in global softwood markets. Cascadia is essentially the former coastal tenures of MacMillan Bloedel, and was set up by Weyerhaeuser, which purchased MacBlo in 1999.
Forest Products is now the largest coastal British Columbia woodlands operator and lumber producer with an Annual Allowable Cut of approximately 7.7 million cubic metres and lumber capacity in excess of 1.4 billion board feet from eight sawmills and four remanufacturing plants.
Making moves such as acquiring Cascadia are the big picture decisions required to make the company a competitive global lumber player. But one of the company’s sawmills, at Cowichan Bay on Vancouver Island, has been doing its share to achieve that goal, with a recent $12 million upgrade that included incorporating curve sawing technology.
There have been small upgrades to the _0-year-old Cowichan Bay mill over the years, but they could be characterized more as tweaking the operation, rather than wholesale changes.
Cowichan Bay was one of the original Doman mills, and capital for upgrades has not been easy to come by, especially during the years when Doman was struggling financially. The $12 million upgrade is the most significant in the mill’s history, and builds on some more recent equipment changes.
After having good experience with a Coe-Newnes optimized trim line at the company’s Ladysmith operation, Cowichan Bay installed the same set-up in 2004. And the company installed a new Nicholson A-8 tandem ring debarker in late 2005. The A-8 replaced a Nicholson A-1 debarker, which handled an estimated _6 million logs in its _0 years of service.
“Having this new equipment and doing an upgrade is a good way for us to head into our _1st year of operation,” says Roger Perry, mill manager.
In some ways, the mill looked to what was going on with BC Interior mills in terms of production and achieving maximum value from their logs, explains Perry. The Interior has set a North American, if not global, benchmark with its extremely high production sawmills. Essentially, world scale sawmills are operating in Cowichan Bay’s provincial backyard, and some of what is being done there is applicable to coastal operations like Cowichan Bay.
“We can’t achieve the same run rates as the Interior millswe have a different log supplybut we can make some significant gains with their process technology. There are big paybacks in better utilization.”
One of the big differences is that Cowichan Bay is dealing with coastal wood with its varied sizes, species and quality. The mill is cutting a coastal diet of hemlock, Douglas fir and western red cedar. The size mix can be huge anywhere from 24 to 55 feet long, and a diameter of from four to 40 inches.
There were several large production pieces that made up the upgrade notably a rebuilt and modernized Coe six-foot quad saw with chipping sideheads that came out of the company’s dismantled Tahsis sawmill and a new Coe four-saw optimized board edger. Other new Coe equipment included an optimized curved sawing gang edger, low profile stacker, and the optimized single- length infeed transfer for the quad.
“We were probably a year in the planning and over that time we were accumulating some used equipment that we logically thought we would use,” says Perry. “With the quad saw, we basically stripped that down to bare bolts and rebuilt it to fit our operation. We re-worked it to accommodate smaller chipping heads for our operationsit had massive chipping heads on it for the Tahsis mill.”
The mill opted to go with a single- length infeed system, rather than a double- length infeed, for practical reasons.
Cowichan Bay, like pretty much all the old Doman mills, is relatively easy to run, but has a small footprint, and space is limited. “Besides needing more space, a DLI would run at a piece rate greater than our ability to feed it. We also wanted to maintain the simple mill layout and installing a DLI would have complicated things considerably and nearly doubled the cost of the upgrade.”
They took out two vintage manual set board edgers and replaced them with a Coe Newnes McGehee four-saw, optimized board edger. The mill had a ten-inch and a twelve-inch double arbor in place. They kept the 12-inch Ukiah as a spare machine. “We really built the curve saw line in around the existing structure, and the Ukiah allowed us to keep operating. We gained a month of operating time doing it this way.”
With mill upgrades, there is often a kind of a ripple effect at work. There were other ancillary upgrades, such as moving the entire mill to PLCs. A hog, salvaged from the company’s Island Phoenix division, was installed, and the power for the gang was increased to 2,_00 horsepower. An improved air system with a dryer was a necessary addition.
Perry points out that critical to the success of the upgrade were its suppliers and consultants. “There was a lot of back and forth between us, Coe Newnes McGehee and SKS Engineeringthey were very helpful and supportive right through the whole process,” he says.
Also supporting them were local contractors. Doing the electrical was KJ (Electrical) Contracting Ltd, and mechanical installation was done by Irwin Installations. Duncan Iron Works carried out much of the fabrication for the upgrade project, and Cowichan Hydraulics did the on-site hydraulics work.