Setting Production Records
By Diane Mettler
All mill upgrade projects have their own set of challenges. For the Interfor Pacific Mill in Port Angeles, Wash., it was a grueling process to get their primary line updated, but well worth it. Production records are now outstripping their estimations. In 2004, Interfor Pacific purchased three of Crown Pacific’s mills, including its stud mill in Port Angeles. The mill, situated on approximately 70 acres, was built in 1998, and a lot of the equipment was original.
Tucked into Washington’s heavily wooded peninsula, the mill has seen gradual changes. The most recent change was the new Optimil primary line. The mill needed high performance equipment to produce its 2x4 and 2x6 studs, in eightto 12-foot lengths, destined for U.S. markets. “We ship about 45 percent of our lumber to Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and Northern California, and the rest is shipped throughout the U.S.,” says mill manager, Steve Kroll, who has been with the mill since it started up in 1998.
Making the transition from the old line to the new Optimil line was a significant financial investment $18 million to be exact. Besides a substantial financial commitment, it also took the patience and endurance of the 105 employees at the mill. The project was not only lengthy (it was approved in late 2005 and completed in February 2007), it also came with a unique set of challenges. “Displacement was a big issue,” says Kroll. “Our maintenance crews were displaced because their shops were in a basement that wasn’t built yet. And our parts storage areas and lumber yards were displaced as well.”
Once all the codes were met and construction moved forward, the mill found itself doing the upgrade in the middle of winter, which caused more challenges.
The addition for the new line went up in stages. First the concrete and then the framework, and once the equipment was set in place, the building was built around it.
For the existing facility, however, the roof had to come off and machinery was lifted in and out with a crane. While the roof was off, the mill was flooded three times.
“We also had a huge snowstorm in November, and we lost about three days while everybody shoveled snow off equipment so they could work,” recalls Kroll.
Breaking Production Records
“Actually, it’s the best startup I’ve ever heard of,” says Kroll. “We turned it on, and it ran. The biggest problem we had in the first two weeks was overrunning the rest of the sawmill.”
Preparation for Upgrade
“That’s actually one of our biggest issues right now,” says Kroll. “We’re learning a lot about flow. It’s become a very important thing in order to keep production where it is. We’ve done some modifications to help at the bottlenecks. But we keep fine tuning them to get a little bit more.”
There looks to be no shortage of wood to run through the new line. The mill uses 70 percent hemlock and 30 percent Douglas fir, and it’s plentiful in that area of the Pacific Northwest. “The peninsula is one big tree farm,” says Kroll. “There has been a lot of competition this past year exports have been a little higher, and they’ve been chipping more but it’s all starting to settle out a little now.”
Kroll says he can’t pick one feature of the Optimil that stands out. He just sees it as a vast improvement over what they had. “This line can run faster 200 feet a minute faster than our prior line. Being a double length infeed, we have more accurate scanning and control of the block while we’re cutting it. Also, with the band saws, we’ve been able to reduce our kerfs significantly.”
Another valuable advantage is that the new line has allowed them to run larger diameter timber. “The original line had been designed for a smaller diameter log than we were running,” he says. “We’ve increased our maximum diameter from 16 inches to 18 inches, and that has opened up a huge amount of timber volume for us.
“The new line has dramatically improved our efficiency and cost structure, allowing us to run in even the toughest market conditions.”
Some of the other newer equipment in the mill includes a Coe DTEC grade scanner, a Milltech trimmer, and a Newnes sorter and stacker (continuous hoist). But to optimize productivity and take advantage of the new line’s high productivity, there are plans to do two further significant upgrades. The first will be to install a new VFM log merchandizer system. Next, the mill will bring in a Gilbert planer and Newnes continuous breakdown hoist.
After all the improvements are completed, the 2008 Interfor Pacific Mill will be a far cry from its startup a decade ago. It will, however, be the efficient, high production facility that’s required to handle the turns and tight requirements of the market.