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Mill Upgrade

Focus On Recovery

Tolko's Lavington, BC operation recently completed phase two of a $29-million upgrade, with the goal of a 10 per cent increase in recovery.


By Paul MacDonald

The corporate offices for forest company Tolko Industries Ltd, while very modern and professional, are located above retail stores in a low-rise building on the main street of the city of Vernon in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley.


The unassuming nature of the head office-compared to the offices of other forest companies which are often in large high-rise office towers in Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver-reinforces the solid, low profile approach Tolko takes in running its business.
Over the years, the company has grown substantially, to the point that it now has annual sales of over $900 million and produces more than 900 million board feet of lumber, in addition to OSB and paper.
And with the recent announcement of its involvement in a new $200-million OSB mill in Saskatchewan, this privately owned company will soon have a presence in all four western provinces.
But it all started with one sawmill, the Lavington operation, located just to the east of Vernon. And while the company has seized business opportunities further afield, it has not forgotten where things started and is intent on seeing that Lavington remains competitive and profitable.

The most recent sign of this commitment came earlier this year, when a $29-million multi-year upgrading project was completed.
Andy Bouwmeester, maintenance supervisor at Lavington, notes that when he joined the operation in 1980, it had just completed a major expansion, including the installation of a new sorter.
"We've done a number of things over the years to improve the operation, but up until we started this project three years ago there had not been a major upgrade since then." To cut to the chase, it was time for another upgrade.

Lavington's lumber recovery had to be increased to stay competitive with other mills and that meant employing new technology. "We started looking at what equipment was out there and what we needed to do to get our recovery up," explains Bouwmeester. The route they selected involved two phases: getting the primary breakdown up to speed and then bringing in new gang and curve sawing equipment.

The first phase of the upgrade came in the form of a new Nicholson A7 ring debarker and a Denis Comact double-length infeed two-faced canter twin band combination.

"That was major new technology for us and that was the first stage," Bouwmeester says. "Once we were able to get that side of things successfully started, we moved on to phase two, the gangs."
Prior to the selection of new gang saw equipment, they had done their homework, both in closely analyzing their own operation at Lavington and in what was out there in terms of new equipment.
"We knew there was a lot of curved sawing equipment out there, but we weren't convinced that the curved sawing methods in place with the equipment were what we wanted to put in our mill."
The mill manager at the time essentially said that mill staff were the ones who had to work with the equipment, so they would be the ones best able to make the decision on what would work-and achieve the overall objective of increasing recovery. They were not bound by the systems that were in place at other Tolko operations. The goal was to select the best equipment for Lavington, and they had the freedom to select a completely different system-which they eventually did.


The first phase of the upgrade at Lavington came in the form of a Denis Comact double-length infeed two-faced canter twin band (above). The second phase, completed this past summer, was two USNR gangs.

A task team was assembled to investigate-and evaluate-the wide range of equipment. It was led by four experienced mill employees-Bouwmeester was a natural to be one of these since he is a long term employee of Lavington and knows it inside out. The team included a good cross-section of employees. The people they involved in this part of the process either brought a great deal of experience to the team or would be working directly with the new equipment.

"We went out and looked at many different systems and at different curve sawing equipment. We came up with a list of things that were good, bad and things that needed to be improved with each system." Bouwmeester likened the process as similar to the wish list you might put together for buying a new truck.

Following this very thorough process, they then went to the suppliers directly, wish list in hand, to achieve the best match for Lavington. "The equipment people tried to meet all the criteria that we were looking for in that evaluation process."

Suppliers, Bouwmeester reports, were very receptive to their changes and requirements. "We had discussions with several different suppliers about what we were looking for in the equipment. In the end, we went with USNR because we felt they were going to be able to meet the most criteria."

That criteria has resulted in a fairly customized system. "We now have equipment that is not just off the shelf. To our knowledge, no one else has really done a similar configuration."
What was also important was that the supplier's people be able to mesh well and communicate with mill employees. "It had to be a team approach on the part of the supplier and ourselves to get this equipment configuration on line. And the USNR people have been top notch."

The wish list that USNR has delivered on was demanding. The mill was looking for a high quality finish on the board chipping face, so they wanted to go with disc heads rather than the standard drum heads. This in itself presents challenges with curve sawing. They were also looking for thin kerf, so they choose to go with double arbors on both six-inch and 12-inch USNR units. They were also after better saw accuracy, so they wanted variable speed drives on the arbors in the 12-inch gang. And there's more. Since the mill's board edger capacity was lacking, they wanted to put profilers on the 12-inch gang.

"That involved installing a whole other section of equipment," notes Bouwmeester. "It was probably the biggest hurdle they had to deal with because putting profiling and curve sawing equipment together was unproven technology."

The end result? "Well, we started things up in July and it has worked out very well. We figured we would have to do some tweaking with it, but it has been minimal."
All of this new equipment will deliver increased recovery-although it's too early to say exactly how much. But the project was targeting a 10 per cent increase, and the results so far look positive.

It should also help, in a general sense, to increase production at the mill, which was turning out 114 million board feet a year, pre-upgrade. "The piece count, the log count through the mill, is not any higher yet," says Bouwmeester. "That's not to say the capacity is not there to do it. But the focus of this equipment was a recovery gain, which I think we have achieved.

"But I think the potential exists for a significant increase in production. The capacity through the single edger we had before was somewhat limiting the rest of the mill. Now, with the two gangs and the profiler, that is no longer the bottleneck."
He noted that the log diet has changed over the years for the mill; it is now dealing with smaller log sizes. Lavington Woodlands has an annual allowable cut of 289,000 cubic metres, primarily spruce, pine and fir, but also a small amount of larch, and cedar. The mill's consumption of 500,000 cubic metres is supplemented with purchased wood. That timber comes in a variety of sizes.
A further benefit of the new USNR gangs is the mill can now better mix the different log sizes. "Before, we needed a fairly good log mix going into the mill to get a good flow, with a balance of large and small logs. But with the gangs, because their capacity is somewhat oversized for our mill, the log mix coming into the mill is no longer near as much of an issue."

The United States is a major market for the boards and dimension lumber that forms most of the production at Lavington, although they are looking to further diversify their markets. Having two gangs-vs the single gang they had before-should help move that effort forward, as well as increase quality.

"What effectively has happened is that our edger operators have become graders. They can grade the quality of the cant to the product we want and we can focus our cut to a little bit better quality product."

Having the right equipment on site is one thing, but making sure mill employees are comfortable with it and can use it effectively is the real key to a successful upgrade. USNR staff were on site a good amount of time and mill people, from electricians to millwrights, were able to spend time with them. "It all helps," says Bouwmeester. "These gangs have a lot of technology that our people have not seen before and it's going to take a while for them to get up to speed."

While this new technology brings improvements in recovery, it also possesses a higher level of equipment complexity. The gangs have a large number of sophisticated motion controllers so they can do the curve sawing, for example. "Technology is kind of a double-edged sword when you look at it that way," says Bouwmeester. "We have to work harder with the people who work with the equipment to keep them abreast of all the current technology. But you end up with better people and better equipment as a result of it.
"There is lots of different and new technology in sawmills, these days," he adds. "Trying to marry it all together with people is the challenge."

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