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April 1997 - Past Issue


At Grande Prairie, Canfor targets improved sorts, more accurate log lengths, better wood flow to the mill and reduced costs by processing at a satellite yard instead of in the cutblock.

By Tony Kryzanowski
Copyright 1997. Contact publisher for permission to use.

Over the past few years, many sawmills have steadily increased their use of cut-to-length harvesting equipment.

On the plus side, the machines are environmentally friendly and can extend a working season. Arguing against these systems, however, is their high capital cost compared to a 'conventional' setup, and significantly reduced production. They also pose sort and wood flow problems for some operators, and some mills, such as Canfor at Grande Prairie, haven't been happy with log processing accuracy at the stump.

April Can you retain a C-T-L system's environmental benefits while solving some of these other problems? Canfor is hoping a pilot satellite processing yard and wood exchange program will provide the answer. On launching the pilot project last fall, the company planned to move about 15 per cent of the total wood requirement for their Grande Prairie, Alberta dimension sawmill from cutblocks to the satellite processing yard, located 50 km south of the city. Half would arrive with limbs and tops, and half would arrive rough-limbed, for comparison purposes.

They hired a single log haul contractor, D& J Isley and Sons Ltd. - Alberta's largest log haul contractor - to ship logs from cutblocks to the satellite yard. Once in the yard, the contractor processes and sorts the logs, then trucks half to Canfor's Hines Creek stud mill 100 km north of Grande Prairie, and half to their Grande Prairie dimension sawmill. If the pilot project works, it could take woodlands management in a new direction. Here is how the system works.

Harvesting contractors cut the wood and skid or forward it to roadside. D&J Isley sub-contractors load it on to five-axle trailers and transport the trees to the satellite yard. The wood is then deposited according to various Canfor sorting requirements. There could be as many as five different sorts at one time. Generally, their main concern is that trees up to 28' long, and 15'' butt size get delimbed and cut to length in the satellite yard, then sent to the Canfor Hines Creek stud mill. Oversize trees are processed to 16' lengths and sent to the Grande Prairie dimension sawmill.

D&J Isley uses B-trains to transport logs to Hines Creek because of weight restrictions on bridges and roads. Once they deliver a load to Hines Creek, they re-load with oversize 16' length logs to transport back to Grande Prairie. Trucks never haul empty.

There are four reasons why Canfor adopted this system. Firstly, they needed to have a steady diet of wood arriving to each sawmill year-round. Therefore, they needed the wood stockpiled in a location where it was quickly accessible, including during breakup or extended periods of rain (the satellite yard is located near a major paved highway.)

Secondly, they needed an efficient way to sort and ship logs to the Hines Creek stud mill, so that Hines Creek could send back wood for the Grande Prairie dimension sawmill. Thirdly, they needed more accurate sorts and onsite cut-to-length harvesting just was not accurate enough. Finally, they needed a system that was more economical and so far it has paid off. Instead of several log haul contractors, now they deal with just one.

"We believe we will save a couple of dollars a tonne," says Canfor Woodlands Operations Supervisor Doug Frith. That represents a $120,000 saving on 15 per cent of their total cut. If they converted their entire harvest to this method, that translates to a $1 million saving a year. Reaction among Canfor's stump-to-dump contractors has been mixed. Some were unhappy to relinquish the haul portion of their contract, while others appreciated it because they saw themselves as wood harvesters. Hauling the wood was a hassle.

Frith and D&J Isley co-owner Morgan Isley spoke plainly about their experience with on-site cut-to-length harvesting. "Cut-to-length in the bush - everybody has tried it and it's very, very expensive," says Isley. "It's not something you jump into. Output is 70 per cent less than your normal conventional type logging, and the expense of buying the equipment is 100 per cent more." He says for Canfor to hire all cut-to-length contractors, they would need "100 contractors out there" because they harvest such small volumes.

While on-site cut-to-length harvesting has its uses, Frith says Canfor believes their satellite yard system is a better method.

"In the past we have used traditional types of cut-to-length systems, mostly the Scandinavian type equipment, and the accuracy on those was not very good," he says. "Many times, the lengths could be out 30 per cent of the time." D&J Isley are using Target and Limmit delimber processors on John Deere and Komatsu carriers. Frith says Canfor has reduced the incidence of faulty measuring to only three per cent, "and that's on a 28 footer."

April With the satellite yard system, Canfor begins to earn benefits starting in the cutblock. When cut-to-length harvesting occurred in the cutblock, contractors had to manage up to five sorts. That is a lot more difficult to manage in the cutblock, says Frith, than in a controlled satellite yard. And sorting is a major concern because of the exchange program Canfor operates between Grande Prairie and Hines Creek.

A major complaint about the satellite yard system versus on-site cut-to-length is removal of indigenous cones from the cutblock. Some argue that contractors operating cut-to-length in the bush cause less environmental damage because they use branches as a mat to crawl on. Secondly, by leaving limbs in the bush, companies create the opportunity for natural regeneration, using cones containing genetic material from that site. The theory is that by seeding with indigenous cones, there is a chance of better regeneration. But Frith says that cut-to-length is site-specific.

"Where you want to do cut-to-length and leave the limbs in the bush is on nutrient-poor sites," he says. "That is the benefit of leaving the nutrients, limbs and cones. Where we are taking the wood, it's not nutrient-poor, it does not need that extra slash load, and we will be planting it."

Regardless of whether or not the limbs are left onsite, "we'd still be planting it. It hasn't changed our silviculture prescription."

Contractor Isley says there is no doubt this system makes the cone picker's job more difficult. "But there are so many options," he adds. "The cone picker can come in the yard, because it is a controlled environment."

The question now is how to deal with wood residues. The experiment has demonstrated that a considerable amount of residual wood accumulates in the yard. Canfor's priority is for better utilization. Right now, seven to 10 per cent of each tree brought to the satellite yard is waste. One possibility is to bring in tub grinders to produce feedstock from tops for nearby OSB and pulp plants.

Canfor could burn the non-marketable remainder in a power generating plant, creating electricity for themselves or to sell on the open market.

Isley says operating the satellite yard has been a learning experience. They have had a solid, 25-year working relationship with Canfor, and it helps to have good communication. They review the operation weekly with Canfor staff.

What the satellite yard system requires is good communication between harvesters and the log haul contractor. "I think there needs to be more communication between contractors and ourselves," says Isley, "as the main contractor for the load and haul, on maybe different ways to help each other out." A downside to the system, he says, is dealing with people issues, such as finding enough skilled equipment operators to handle a large fleet of satellite yard equipment. The upside is that the system works.

The wood exchange program between Grande Prairie and Hines Creek is only the first step, Isley adds. An expanded wood exchange program among competing forestry companies could benefit everyone in the area. There is potential for companies to realize lower haul rates through more co-operation. A number of new OSB and pulp plants have sprouted in the vicinity over the past decade, completing the framework of a multi-company wood exchange program.

"The wood exchange program among all the mills is very exciting," says Isley. As a haul contractor, he says, "you can make that loop all the time, and your trucking costs could basically be cut by 30 per cent."

But that scenario is down the road. Canfor's focus now is to evaluate the costs and benefits of operating the satellite yard system.

"To this point, we have a good opinion of it," says Canfor's Frith. "The only thing that would change is if we could do something better in the bush. Right now, the pilot project is looking pretty good."

He says he doubts Canfor would ever return to onsite cut-to-length harvesting on a large scale. But they would consider a modified approach if someone can prove that it is cost-effective.

"There's always newer and better ways of doing things," he says.

For now, its seems they have hit upon a more efficient, more reliable, better managed, year-round system. They will review the outcome of the pilot project this summer.

Return to the April 1997 - Table of Contents

Last modified 06/08/97

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