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A Southport operator observes planed lumber as it enters the trimming/grading scanners.

Entrepreneurs Jason Smith and Jim Lyons carried out extensive research to set up their new $18 million high-tech sawmill in Oregon

By Jeff Mullins

Companies like Southport Forest Products (SFP), out of Coos Bay, Ore., are combining innovation with efficient state-of-the-art technology to achieve enviable results, perhaps indicating the proverbial pendulum is swinging the other way. Southport Lumber Company (SLC) sawmill, a sister company to SFP, has been in full operation less than a year but already has become an industry trendsetter.

Southport Forest Products began in 1998, when Jason Smith and Jim Lyons saw an opportunity and purpose: to recover lumber from logs being processed for pulp. Partnering with a local whole log chipping operation, they built a sawmill, purchased low value logs 4 to 12 inches in diameter, and proceeded to process them for their highest value use.                                   
At the SFP yard, logs are sorted according to species and quality with a John Deere 330 and two John Deere 200 machines, bucked to length by LogMax 5000 dangle head processors on John Deere 160 machines, and then run through a Nicholson A-5 dual ring debarker. Blocks exiting the debarker are scanned for lumber solutions and sorted into bins. Sorted logs are batch fed into the sawmill, which features Optimil equipment, and sawn into green lumber. As an example of innovation, Smith points out that two portable sawmills (Lucas Mill) are being used to most efficiently process some logs.                                   

“The operation produces 40 million board feet annually and is best viewed as a forest products recycling centre. We evaluate each log, mill some, chip some, and resell some based on the highest value use.”

Inspiration for a New Mill
Today, some of those logs are sold to Southport Lumber Company, SFP’s new high-tech sawmill, which started up in 2005. “As SFP began to evaluate upgrading the first Southport mill, we concluded that the current site lacked the transportation infrastructure to support increased production,” Smith explained. “This led to considering other sites and the conception of the idea to build a commodity and chip and saw log mill to augment, rather than replace, our existing operation. Southport Lumber Company is the result.” The new mill, constructed on a site purchased from the Port of Coos Bay, will have a new rail line built by the Port and a barge slip that SLC is upgrading.

Mill Visits & Research
Lyons and Smith — the latter an engineer — sought to bring together all the best ideas and technology available for processing lumber today.                                   

Extensive research and mill site visits throughout the United States and Europe led to equipment selection and a mill layout to produce high quality lumber as efficiently and inexpensively as possible. Designed to process logs between 31/2” on the small end and 18” on the large end, the mill produces planed dimensional green lumber (from 2x3 to 6x6) for direct shipping to a wide variety of markets.                                   

“With monthly production approaching seven million board feet, our goal to produce 100 million board feet of lumber annually is within reach,” says Smith. These production numbers are even more significant considering that the entire operation only employs 35 people, including office and yard personnel.

Today’s Operation On the primary line, two shifts of five operators turn full-length logs into stacked bundles of rough-cut lumber. With nine employees working a single eight-hour shift, the secondary production line planes, grades, sorts, stacks, bundles, and labels the lumber for market. One forklift operator supports the swingshift crew, but when the planer line is operating, four forklift operators perform the additional tasks of feeding the planer, decking finished products, and loading trucks.                                   

Trucks deliver presorted logs to SLC’s yard where they are weighed, or scaled, before a LeTourneau 2594 loader sorts them directly onto the deck feeding the Nicholson A-8 debarker, or decks them in the yard, depending on the sort being run. “We only use one loader at this operation, compared to having about ten ‘rolling stock’ machines at SFP,” Smith says. “Our operation is very streamlined here.”                                   

The mill processes 90 percent Douglas fir and 10 percent hemlock, originating primarily from industrial timberland within 125 miles of the mill, but they also purchase some timber from Canada.                                   

Full-length logs (up to 55 feet long) are scanned by a USNR Perceptron optimizer, as they exit the debarker, to determine a bucking solution for the highest yield. Logs are automatically bucked into prescribed lengths between 7 and 16 feet by four PSI circular bucking saws and decked at the mill’s infeed. As logs enter the optimized USNR Vertical Shape Saw (VSS) they are singulated, rescanned, and automatically rotated according to the value driven solution. Side chipping and side board profile chipping occur sequentially prior to the USNR quad arbor saw box removing the prescribed sideboards. The remaining centre cant is rescanned, reoptimized, and processed into lumber by the VSS’s last stage. The system is designed to process up to 20 pieces per minute, at feed speeds up to 550 fpm, while maintaining total positive control of the fibre during processing.            

Logs are automatically bucked into prescribed lengths of between seven and 16 feet by four PSI bucking saws and decked at the mill’s infeed.                        

The lumber is accumulated on a deep pile deck feeding a descrambler where an operator feeds single boards through a trim saw, as needed. They proceed to a Baxley sorter that automatically deposits boards of the same dimensions, but varying length, into one of 26 bins. When a bin is full, lumber units are lowered onto a chain, descrambled, stacked, and packaged, prior to being decked in the yard or fed by a forklift directly to the planer line.                                   

At the planer line infeed, bundles of uniform dimension and varying length boards are descrambled and fed individually into the Stetson Ross G-14 planer where all four sides are simultaneously surfaced. Next, they receive an application of anti-stain chemical. A high- speed belt delivers the planed lumber to a descrambler and then to a FinScan scanner that automatically positions them for simultaneous trimming of both ends in a Baxley trimmer.                                   

Each board is then scanned for grading by a FinScan system and stamped by a Timberstar grade printer. The stamped boards are automatically sorted into one of 32 bins. Full bins are lowered onto a chain conveyer, descrambled, and stacked.                                   

Stacks of finished lumber are banded, labeled, sealed on the ends, and placed in the yard for shipping by rail or truck. Southport’s lumber is marketed through a contract with Roseburg Forest Products, and finished products are labeled for direct shipping to customers.                                   
As a zero waste facility, Southport separates chips, sawdust fines, bark, and shavings into one of four hoppers. Chips are sold in both domestic and foreign markets, bark is sold regionally for cogeneration hog fuel or landscape products, and shavings and sawdust are utilized to make medium density fiber board. Southport has been able to attract and retain good employees, even though they pay a little less than some bigger operations. Smith says the biggest challenge is always maintaining a good supply of logs while balancing the cost of the raw materials with lumber prices. “There are trees growing here, and the principles of supply and demand are at work. We just need to be as efficient and productive as we can and be able to ride out the swings in the markets.”  

Logs entering the optimized USNR Vertical Shape Saw are singulated, rescanned and automatically rotated according a value driven solution.