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Learning from experience
Canfor’s Polar sawmill in B.C. learned from the experience of a sister mill in planning its own upgrade, and opted to do the $20 million project in two phases, to assist in the start-up curve.
By Jim Stirling
Being part of a large family has its advantages.
For Canfor Corporation’s Polar sawmill, one of those pluses came from the previous experience of a sister sawmill in British Columbia. Specifically, the Polar operation was able to learn from some prior upgrades at Canfor’s mill in Fort St. John, explains Adrien Chabot, plant manager at Polar, which is about 70 kilometres north of Prince George, B.C.
The two mills were installing similar systems. But based in part on start-up experiences at the Fort St. John mill, Polar opted to introduce its project in two phases to assist the start-up curve and staff familiarization process.
The strategy appeared to work. Polar was back up to its old productivity levels within 45 calendar days from total project completion, reports Chabot. Polar was operating on a four day a week schedule. The two phase project in its entirety included a comprehensive catalogue of improvements and cost approximately $20 million.
“We’re fortunate here in that we have access to a large amount of fibre and beetle killed pine. But we’re starting to switch back to greener stands and extract higher value timber from them. Our old planer set-up limited us in what we could extract,” explains Chabot. Consequently, the first phase of Polar’s upgrade project was to the sawmill’s planer and back end.
The work began in July, 2011 and included a thorough upgrade to the 23 knife heads on the operation’s existing Stetson-Ross planer and the addition of a new tilt hoist and infeed to the planer.
Murray Latta Progressive Machine installed new setworks on the planer. The machine’s arbours and heads were upgraded by Murray Latta Progressive Machine (formerly Progressive Mill Supply), and Arrow Speed Controls installed new variable frequency drive motors.
“Essentially, we went bigger and faster to get the throughput,” summarizes Chabot. Prior to the planer upgrade, the sawmill was typically running on two daily shifts and the planer on three. The reverse is now the case with the planer operating two shifts and the sawmill ramped up a shift.
The other key parts to the first phase included the installation of a new Mill Tech dual tilt hoist, along with new infeed transfers to the planer.
“After that, we basically started from scratch,” he says about the project’s second phase. Key equipment supplier throughout that part of the project was Comact. Slowdown belts deliver boards to a landing table for presentation to a Comact GradExpert automatic high speed grading system. “We have an array of products although we’re probably heavier to the wides,” says Chabot.
The GradExpert can operate at speeds up to 160 lugs per minute but usually averages less, he adds. The machine’s forte is making better grading decisions faster.
“A big part of the upgrade is extracting more #2 grade and better. It helps margins in this marketplace.”
The dual arbour Comact trimmer features one foot saw spacing and it can accommodate products from studs to 20 foot random lengths. The saw spacing allows the machine to make the cut-in-two decision very efficiently and adds more flexibility to the GradExpert.
There are two fully automatic Comact sorters after the trimmer: 55 bins on the 20 foot sort and 29 bins for the 16 foot side.
There’s also automatic on stream bar coding ahead of the sorter bins on both lines.
Early results from the upgrade have been encouraging. “We’re still tweaking our grade out-turns although our prime percentages have gone up while our trim losses have gone down significantly,” reports Chabot.
Other downstream components of the upgrade include the addition of two new dual fork Comact stackers. Polar’s performance test showed the machines can stack five bundles in about seven minutes, he adds. A new Signode bander was added to complement an existing machine and Del-Tech similarly installed a second paper wrap station.
Polar’s lumber drying capabilities were upgraded during the project. A third Konus hot oil heating system was imported from Canfor’s Clear Lake plant that had earlier been permanently closed down. Del-Tech crews were upgrading a dry kiln relocated to Polar; the upgrading involved conversion from a cross shaft to a line shaft to help increase throughput.
Chabot noted Nechako Construction acted as prime contractor and did the mechanical work for the project while Milltron did the electrical equivalent.
Polar’s principal markets include exporting J-grade to Asia, manufacturing products for North American home centres and the shipment of #3 and economy lumber grades to China.
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