Stud Start-up

Centralia Sawmill Company is ramping up a new $42 million state-of-the art stud mill

By Jeff Mullins

The mill was designed for hand 4-inch to 22-inch logs, but productivity is highest when using 7 to 12-inch logs.

Although the contents of this article are still current, the names of the owners have changed. Soon after this article was completed, Sierra Pacific, headquartered in Northern California, purchased the Centralia Sawmill Company (CSC) mill. The transaction was finalized this spring. Both companies say the transition is going smoothly and there has been little employee turnover.                       

CSC’s business manager, Wes Tedder, said economic factors were the cause of the sale — high log and low lumber prices. He indicated CSC felt lucky to find a large company interested in purchasing. The amount of the purchase, however, was undisclosed.                       

Sierra says it intends to install a boiler that will allow it to dry its own lumber on the site. The permitting process is already underway. It’s the first stud mill owned by the company and they are looking forward to expanding business in the area. In an industry that has been hit recently by shutdowns rather than start-ups, Centralia Sawmill Company’s (CSC) new high speed stud mill in southwestern Washington State stands out. While other companies are cutting production due to depressed lumber prices, CSC is ramping up production of their new state-of-the-art optimized high speed stud mill.                       

At the hub of this new venture is Philip Tedder, CSC’s founder and CEO, a tenured agro-economic forestry professor and forestry consultant, who — along with his son, Wes Tedder — developed supply and demand computer projection models for the forestry industry.                       

In addition to projecting the supply of fibre in various regions and the demand for various lumber sizes, their forecasts included projections of dimensional lumber prices. These predictive calculations became the basis for publications sold to medium to large companies as a tool for planning production and capital changes in their operations. In related efforts, clients hired them to do “capacity studies” to determine where a new mill, or lines, should be constructed. When their findings strongly indicated a new mill near Centralia, Wash., would work well — and their client declined to act upon the recommendation — they decided to take the bull by the horns and build a mill themselves. CSC now has a brand new sawmill, ramping up to full production projected to be 180 million board feet.                                   

Although the consultants knew there would be an abundance of smaller Douglas fir trees in an area that also lacked production capacity, there were still major hurdles to overcome in building the mill.                                   

The challenges included securing a mill site, designing the mill, organizing a company from scratch and, not least of all, raising capital. But they were committed to the project and pressed on.                                   

With an undergraduate degree in business and forest management behind him, Wes returned to Oregon State University and completed an MBA while his father worked on a business plan. Although it’s a story in its own right, suffice it to say that by May 2005, Centralia Sawmill Company was established with 35 investors/owners and the $42 million (US) needed for construction and start-up had been secured based on a solid business plan. They purchased a 41-acre site, becoming the first tenant of The Port of Centralia’s Industrial Centre. Eager to develop their Industrial Centre, the port expedited permitting processes and provided an access road, rail spur, water, and sewer service to CSC. The city of Centralia assisted by bringing power to the site. The new company has been able to select its 70 employees from more than 500 job applicants in the economically depressed area.    

Pederson Management of Kelowna, BC, a company with experience in developing greenfield mills, was hired as general contractor to design and construct the mill to process logs, averaging 9.5 inches in diameter, producing 2x4 and 2x6 studs in high value 8, 9, and 10 foot lengths.

Centralia’s management team worked closely with consultant Pederson Management to ensure the equipment mix synchronized speed and function. Careful attention was given to eliminating any possible bottlenecks in production flow.  

CSC’s developing management team worked with Pederson to ensure the equipment mix synchronized speed and function to accomplish the desired tasks. Careful attention was given to eliminating any possible bottlenecks in production flow.                                   

Ground was broken for the new sawmill in June 2005, and by the summer of 2006, start-up operations were well underway. CSC’s ramped-up production schedule has been consistently exceeded, and production rates this past fall were the equivalent of 125 million board feet a year, or about 70 percent capacity. Wes Tedder, who is now CSC’s business manager, anticipates full production will be attained by the second quarter of 2007.                                   

Douglas fir logs on trucks originating primarily from private and industrial sources — usually within a 25 mile radius of the mill — are unloaded, scaled, sorted and decked at CSC’s yard. Cat 966 or 988s move stems in the log yard and feed the mill. Although the mill was designed to handle 4” to 22” logs, the preferred diameter is 7” to 12”, a size range that garners the greatest productivity from the mill. Large or undersized logs are set aside and sold to other mills.                                   

A Comact log wave feeder directs logs to a high-speed Brunette Kodiak 622 debarker where a 6 foot Comact underarm radial cutoff saw is available to remove any undesirable butt swells or sweeps. CSC’s Comact lineal positioning twin bucking line merchandizes logs according to the highest value length prescription derived by the MPM Engineering lineal scanner. Either side of the twin merchandizer can feed the mill in excess of 60 percent capacity if one bank of saws goes down for maintenance.                                   

Merchandized logs in 8- to 10-foot lengths, plus trim, are segregated on to twin wave feeder conveyors allowing alternate feeding of large and small blocks into the sawmill to maximize production. A second MPM scanner develops the optimized board prescription for each piece.

About 70 percent of Centralia’s finished product is shipped by rail, with the balance going out on trucks, to as many as 75 different customers.   

The Comact optimized lineal infeed and log turner rotates logs and then positions them horizontally as they enter the Comact canter for side profiling before passing them through the Comact Cetec 72” twin band for production of a centre cant and, if applicable, sideboards destined for the mill’s re-saw system. Center cants speed to the USNR Vertical Shape Saw (VSS) where profiling chipping heads prepare them for final processing in the 12 bladed VSS. Curvature of the block is taken into account during the optimization process to garner the highest lumber yields. “The smallest logs shoot through the mill at up to 550 lineal feet per minute but larger ones move slower yet have greater yields,” Wes explains. “By staggering the larger and smaller logs, we get the greatest productivity from our equipment.”                                   

Sideboards are routed to a horizontal Comact 72” single band saw with a go-around re-saw system utilizing an optimized USNR lineal edger. After edging, boards join the outfeed from the VSS and accumulate on a deep pile conveyor before descrambling and proceeding to the Comact 30 bin auto sorter.                                   

Full bins are lowered and transferred by conveyor to a Gillingham-Best Variable Pan Geometry stacker where they are assembled into units. One of two Taylor T300 forklifts stack units in the yard or directly feed the planer line if it is processing the same width boards as the sawmill is producing at the time. On the planer line, a Comact conveyor transports units to the tilt hoist, deep pile conveyor and then a descrambler.                                   

A lug conveyor separates individual boards for the USNR scanner controlling paddle pushers and two Comact trimmers that sequentially trim for nominal and precision lengths. Exiting trimmers, a speedup table sends individual boards to the four-sided USNR planer for finishing and stain treatment, and then to the slowdown table.                                   

A lugged conveyor forwards and flips boards for a Finscan color-optimized grade scanner and application of a grade stamp by a TimberStar grade stamper. Boards are automatically segregated by grade and length into one of 25 bins by the Comact auto sorter. Full bins of finished lumber are conveyed to a Comact stacker and secured by a Samuel bander before being moved to the yard for transport to one of CSC’s many markets. About 70 percent of CSC’s finished product is shipped via rail and the balance goes out on trucks to as many as 75 different customers.                                   

Edgings and end trimmings from the mill’s various processes are collected and transported by either belt or vibrating conveyors to the Acrowood slant disc chipper protected with an infeed metal detector. The chipper’s discharge, along with chips and sawdust from other mill functions, are conveyed to an Acrowood shaker screen where they are separated. Oversize fragments are recycled to the hog and screenings are sent to appropriate bins for loading on to trucks. Bark is processed into beauty bark by a dedicated Brunette hog and stored in a bin for shipment. Planer shavings are collected separately and transferred to the sawdust bin by a closed blower-vacuum system.

The mill processes logs averaging 9.5 inches in diameter to produce 2x4 and 2x6 studs in high value eight-, nine-, and 10-foot lengths.   

CSC’s “no waste” design, along with increases in the price of chips and sawdust during ramp up, is helping offset the presently depressed dimensional lumber market.                                   

CSC is averaging two 40-hour per week shifts with 10 operator positions — five in the sawmill and five in the planer mill.                                   

“As a new mill and company, things have gone extremely well,” says Wes Tedder. “Although there are a few little things that we might have done differently in hindsight, we are happy with our location, the mill layout and equipment choices.” He adds that there are still a number of major aspects of CSC’s operation scheduled for completion in the coming year. Plans include hard surfacing the log and lumber yards, installing a paper wrapping machine as well as a shavings-fired boiler and kilns capable of drying 75 to 100 percent of the mill’s annual output.     

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