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July Aug 2003

Doing it differently—Swedish style

A Swedish sawmill is taking a different mill approach with a single pass system, using a Linck primary breakdown line that yields a variety of product sizes.

By Tony Kryzanowski

(Gallo sawmill sales manager, Sven Nilsson.)

A Swedish sawmill is taking what could be termed the butcher shop approach to softwood lumber production. Much like a master butcher artfully cuts and trims a single side of beef, the mill is manufacturing various sizes of dimension lumber from a single log pass through its state-of-the-art, German-built production line. Located about 800 kilometres north of Stockholm, the Gallo sawmill, owned by Perssoninvest, completed a $17-million upgrade in 1999 that features a Linck primary breakdown line. It uses what is called the “profile technique” of lumber manufacturing.

Although the layout of the Gallo sawmill is very similar to a typical Canadian sawmill, the interior construction material is quite different. There tends to be a lot of concrete, steel and gyprock used in the construction of Canadian sawmills, but the Gallo sawmill uses a substantial amount of wood in its construction. There’s no doubt that the technology used at this privately-held sawmill is a source of great national pride considering that Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf attended the official opening in 1999.

The Gallo sawmill is one of two sawmills owned by Perssoninvest, a company founded and operated by the Persson family. It began operations 70 years ago and, in addition to sawmills and 65,000 hectares of forest, the company owns the Volvo vehicle distributorship for the central and northern parts of Sweden and Norway. With the profile sawing technique, the log passes through a scanner, which plots a solution for the log interior based on filling a specific customer order. Then, it calculates the potential for other pieces of lumber from the remainder of the log, the objective being minimal chip production and maximum dimension lumber production. “Our measuring equipment measures the top diameter of the log, the tapering off of the log and the length of the log,” says sales manager Sven Nilsson. “It decides the width and height of the sideboards, and a signal is also sent to the chippers in the production line.”

A Gallo sawmill control room employee monitors debarked logs entering the production line, which features the German-made Linck equipment.

Dimension lumber is manufactured from the outside in, as the log proceeds through the primary breakdown line in a single pass. “Since our raw material is quite expensive, the important thing for us is to achieve the right gain from the log,” says Nilsson. “We don’t want to produce a lot of chips. We want to produce sawn lumber. I think this approach is the best you can have today. We believe it is the latest sawmilling technique.” The white pine logs that the Gallo sawmill uses range from 130 to 400 millimetres in diameter.

The average diameter is 175 millimetres. There are 13 logging contractors working for the company. About 45 per cent of its wood supply comes from its own forest holdings, with the remainder coming from other private landowners or state-owned land. In Sweden, about 50 per cent of forested land is held by individual private landowners, with the remainder owned by private companies or the government. While some Swedish companies import wood from countries like Russia and the Baltic States, the Gallo sawmill has thus far resisted importing timber. Nilsson says the reason is that the company has no guarantee on the quality of wood obtained from these areas of Eastern Europe.

he profile sawmilling technique consists of various dimensions of lumber being manufactured in a single pass. While production is based on solid contracts for the centre log material at the Gallo mill, it’s sometimes a challenge to find a market for the peripheral lumber.

The closest comparisons to profile sawmilling technology in Canada are some of the small log line systems currently available on the market, where the objective is to manufacture precise lumber dimensions at high speed with minimal chip production, and without the need for remanufacturing. In addition to its ability to manufacture lumber of various dimensions in a single pass, another objective of the Linck system is high production. “The strength of this production line is not to get a good yield, because if you want to get the best yield you should use a bandsaw,” says Nilsson. “This system is very efficient.

It can be run at high speed, and that is one of the main reasons why we went for it.” The Gallo sawmill operates its Linck production line at between 80 to 120 metres per minute. It is designed to operate at up to 130 metres per minute. In fact, it is so fast and efficient that Gallo’s system is only operating at about 50 per cent of capacity because of sawmill production limitations downstream. “This is a monster,” says Nilsson. “There are mills with the same equipment producing 350,000 to 380,000 metres per year.” The Linck production line consists of a series of computer-controlled sawing units. After scanning for a solution, the first unit manufactures chips along two sides of the log and turns it.

The second unit chips the remaining two sides, creating a cant. The next unit uses circular saws to cut the sideboards, followed by the final unit that saws the centre cant. As the log emerges from the final unit, it opens up into lumber of various dimensions according to the merchandizing profile assigned to it at the entry point. The Linck cutting line was only part of Perssoninvest’s capital investment at the Gallo sawmill. It also installed a new debarking plant, featuring a Valon-Kone debarker, and sorting line supplied by Viking Equipment. Logs entering the sawmill range in lengths from 3.4 to 5.5 metres.

The lumber is not planed at the sawmill; that function is subcontracted out as needed. It is, however, kiln dried. “The surface of the wood that is being produced by the production line is very smooth and very accurate,” says Nilsson. “When we adjust the line before we start a production run, we talk about points of a millimetre in the measurement.” The standard widths the sawmill produces are 30, 44, 50, 63,and 75 millimetres. However, it can also produce customized sizes. “We want to work more with the customer to see what he is using,” says Nilsson. “The best thing we can do is have a good dialogue and close cooperation with the customer. Many customers are not aware of the possibilities of this sawmill. It can, for example, crosscut into lengths that are not the normal lengths, which might save them some recovery.”

In addition to adopting this profiling production technique, the Gallo sawmill has also decided to specialize in manufacturing lumber exclusively from white spruce. This, again, is something quite unheard of in Canada, unless a sawmill must use a single conifer species simply because of its abundance. Typically, a Canadian sawmill will use all merchantable conifers available to it. The three main softwood species in Sweden are white spruce, Scotch pine and lodgepole pine. The last was introduced to Sweden within the past half century because it is a fast growing species in that environment.

The country’s forestry companies realized some time ago that there would be a shortage of softwood in certain areas of the country if it depended solely on the longer growing cycle of Scotch pine. They began an aggressive campaign to replant certain areas with lodgepole pine to carry the industry through the projected shortages. The Gallo sawmill has decided to specialize in white spruce because of its abundance around its sawmill in central Sweden and because it requires less kiln drying time than Scotch pine. Nilsson says he has found that specialization and being able to supply significant volumes of a single species in a variety of dimensions is a marketing advantage with some customers. The Swedish softwood lumber industry grades its lumber for appearance, much like Canadians treat hardwood lumber.

Some of the main criteria graders look for are knot content, knot size, compression wood and distortion. The lumber itself is used in a variety of secondary manufacturing applications, from high-end furniture down to pallet stock. Also, like Canadian hardwood mills, the Gallo mill works to fill contracts that have specified size and quality requirements. Nilsson says they like to have orders three to six months in advance of production. He says the profile technique can create some marketing difficulties, especially in a tight market. While production is based on solid contracts for the centre log material, it’s not always easy to find a market for the peripheral lumber. “We produce against orders and try not to produce against stock, even if that is difficult sometimes,” says Nilsson. “In a balanced market, we are always working against contracts. The problem with this program is that if we have sold these two centre pieces on contract, we of course get sideboards falling out of various qualities. Sometimes, it is difficult to sell these in advance. We are sometimes forced to stockpile some of this in advance.”

About 30 per cent of Gallo’s products are marketed domestically, with the remainder exported to Holland, France, Germany and Japan. “We have had very good success developing the Japanese market, going from almost nothing a few years ago to eight or nine per cent today,” says Nilsson. “We are also developing markets in Thailand and South Vietnam.” Like many Canadian primary lumber producers, the company is very interested in pursuing any value-added opportunities for its products that would work as an add-on to its existing sawmill operations.

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