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MILL UPGRADE

Increased Recovery

Quebec sawmiller Les Industries Piekouagame has increased its recovery by 25 per cent with a new production line. 

By Tony Kryzanowski 

Quebec sawmill owner Charles Paul has a reputation for being determined. Given the difficulty that independent Canadian sawmills now find themselves in as a result of the softwood lumber dispute with the United States and uncertain lumber prices, it will likely take all of Paul's determination and sawmilling smarts to continue operating profitably. However, he has placed his company in a good position to weather the storm by investing in a production line featuring a Sawquip high recovery four-head canter and eight-inch gang edger. 

Les Industries Piekouagame mill manager Real Boulianne (inset) with the mill's curve sawing, high recovery four-head Sawquip canter, part of a recent upgrade at the Quebec sawmill. 

Paul operates a random length dimension sawmill called Les Industries Piekouagame Inc near Lac St Jean in Mashteuiatsh, Quebec and is the only individual First Nations member to own a sawmill located within a First Nations community in the province. The sawmill has an annual timber allocation of 88,000 cubic metres of softwood, consisting of 55 per cent black spruce, 40 per cent jackpine and five per cent balsam fir. The logs average 5.5 inches in diameter. About half is harvested from public land within 25 kilometres of the sawmill and the rest is trucked from 350 kilometres away. 

The logs arrive tree length and are currently slashed to 12 feet 6 inches in the yard. The sawmill has 18 employees, 75 per cent of which are aboriginal. Paul tries to employ individuals from the local First Nations community, providing training when necessary. The sawmill operates a 10-hour shift five days a week. At present, the sawmill manufactures about 20 million board feet of green lumber annually, with about 90 per cent of it exported to the US market. About half of its production is random length 2x4s, a quarter is random length 2x6s, followed by 2x8s and 2x3s. Paul has plans for another major capital investment starting this fall that will give him the ability to manufacture much more valuable finished, dry lumber. 

He plans to install a multi-saw trimmer optimizer, planer and dry kiln. The sawmill was founded at the First Nations community near Lac St Jean in 1980, and was purchased by Charles Paul in 1992. He began a $5-million capital investment program in 1998, resulting in a building addition, replacement of the existing line with a Sawquip curve saw, four head canter and gang edger, rebuilt debarkers, a new drum debarker, a filing room, hydraulic room, a re-engineered trimmer and rebuilt chip screens. While the company investigated a number of small log line canters and edgers, it settled on Sawquip equipment because of its production speed, superior log handling and better quality chips, says sawmill manager Real Boulianne. "Sawquip was the only company that was willing to make a machine to my liking and using my ideas," says Boulianne. 

Les Industries Piekouagame functioned as a prototype test site for Sawquip's high recovery four head canter, which has since become part of the company's commercial line of equipment. "I guess it is good to reinforce how a small firm like this can install a line like our Sawquip line and have the high degree of flexibility that it offers," says Sawquip sales manager Arthur Selin. The company is headquartered in Lavaltrie, Quebec and exports its products worldwide. "They don't have to chip the tops. They can make two by two's and can go all the way up to eight by twelve's. They can do curve sawing and straight sawing. They could even change to metric if there is a good offshore market," says Selin. Paul was looking for a line that offered this high degree of flexibility. 

Boulianne says they witnessed an immediate production increase with the new line. He says they are manufacturing about 25 per cent more lumber compared with their old line and producing a lot less waste. "I am producing 120 fewer truck loads of chips and 50 per cent fewer truck loads of sawdust per five million board feet of lumber," says Boulianne. From the standpoint of production speed, he is able to run six inch cants through the canter and gang edger at 500 feet per minute. 

Eight inch cants with three saw cuts run at about 350 feet per minute and cants with up to five saw cuts on the gang edger run at 300 feet per minute. Boulianne says they also experience consistent production with the equipment and, should a log become jammed, easy access. "A log going into the Sawquip machine is never stuck," says Boulianne. "At any time, we can just back up the log or cant." Sawquip asserts that its system has a number of advantages over competitors. Firstly, because of the canter and gang edger's versatility, Selin says sawmills realize considerable savings by not having to invest in a lot of sorting at the front end. 

The line is capable of manufacturing lumber from logs up to 16 inches in diameter. Once the slashed logs enter the production line, a step feeder drops individual logs onto a V chain. The log is transported through a Hermary laser positioning system and high-density scanners, which provide the elliptical shape of the log as well as its diameter and form. Quebecbased Syst-M Inc is the electronic equipment supplier and controls integrator for the production line. "The log continues forward and encounters the vertical turning rolls, what we call rolls one," says Selin. "They lift the log off of the V chain just a bit and turn it with the horns either left or right." Rolls one then hand the log off to rolls two and three. "Rolls two and three will place the log in the best vertical position for the bottom chipping head," says Selin. "To do this, we have three more scanners just before and after the log turning where we continuously scan the log and determine where it needs to be adjusted vertically. On that basis, we can process for taper. We can take full taper, split taper, marginal taper, whatever is the case." 

He adds that all decisions by the optimizer, including log turning, log vertical positioning and sawing pattern, are carried out in real time. Rolls three and four are situated over the bottom chipping head to securely hold the log as it passes across it. These rolls also mechanically force the log through the vertical chipping heads following its curvature. The top head is situated just after the vertical chipping heads and is set in relation to the bottom head, depending if a four- or six-inch cant is manufactured. 

After the top chipping head, a four-sided cant exits the canter. It is transported one length and then enters the gang edger. Two sets of rolls placed in close proximity to the edger saws are mounted on an overhead carriage assembly and set by servopositioners. They in turn position the cant to the edger saws and mechanically force it through the saws while following the curve. Boards exit from the far end where they are directed either to the trimmer or reman line.

Logs going into the mill have an average diameter of 5.5 inches and are mainly black spruce and jackpine, with some balsam. The sawmill manufactures about 20 million board feet of green lumber annually.

With the Piekouagame installation, Sawquip has developed a log orientation system where the log is continuously scanned and repositioned every five milliseconds during the cant manufacturing process, something they say is brand new to the industry. The company claims that there are a number of advantages to its system. Firstly, because Sawquip's system curve saws with the horns of a log positioned right or left in the horizontal plane, it says gravity assists this operation. Logs with sweep naturally want to fall on their side, so their system does not have to fight gravity to keep the log in position, resulting in less twists in cants. Also, because the log is lying with horns to the side, minimal log turning is required for optimal log position. Finally, Sawquip says the natural curve of the log is more easily followed than with horns placed vertically. 

The possibility of crook is reduced. Because the Sawquip system separates the top and bottom chipping heads, the log can be positioned vertically for taper sawing versus half taper in conventional four head canters. Vertical rolls above the bottom chipping head force a curved log through the vertical heads along the log's curvature, thus resulting in curve sawing. Plus, three flat sides of a cant provide maximum holding ability and guidance through the top head, further eliminating twist. Sawquip promotes the advantages of separate canter and edger functions, saying that this permits visual observation of products manufactured at each stage of production and allows for validation of the electronic process controls. Chips and sawdust are also separated. 

Having each function operate separately allows companies to incorporate moving saw clusters in the gang edger for production of squares and lumber with various thicknesses, says Sawquip, as well as allowing for the installation of an in-line profiler with separate scanning and controls for optimized edging to replace a board edger. Finally, it says there is better access to knives and saws and, on this subject, Boulianne is in full agreement. He finds no fault in the Sawquip system, but says the sawmill is experiencing the same problem as many others when it comes to more advanced electronics. "We can play with the parameters to a certain level," says Boulianne, "but to actually manipulate the program and know a lot of things about it, we count heavily on a few people at the manufacturer's office. 

A lot of the programming is only available as help screens, but there is no really good manual that we can refer to and work with. It's learn as you go. That, at times, can be a problem, but when you are a prototype, this is kind of normal." Selin says Sawquip recognizes that there is a general lack of electrical/mechanical expertise in the workforce and is encouraging regional education centres to deliver more individuals with this combination of knowledge. "This mill is a really good example of taking higher technology and implanting it. Although they have struggled at times, they are succeeding," says Selin. 

The struggle comes from the electronics and controls sometimes being beyond the technical knowledge level of the mill's employees, a situation that even a PC user can appreciate. Selin adds that Sawquip has held their hands, so to speak, for a while at the mill, but now they are gaining control-especially with the addition of a person in a new position for quality control and electronics. Having now established itself on a solid footing from a production perspective, Les Industries Piekouagame is looking forward to adding value to its operation by producing dry, finished lumber within a year's time. 

About half of production at the mill is random length 2x4s, a quarter is random length 2x6, followed by 2x8 and 2x3. Most of its production, about 90 per cent, is for the US market.

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