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July August 2005  - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal



TOLKO takes production higher

Tolko’s sawmill in Merritt, British Columbia is coming off a $19 million upgrade that will see it hit production of 250 million board feet this year and upwards of 350 million board feet in 2006.

By Paul MacDonald

The daily construction meetings are behind them now, and management at Tolko’s Nicola Valley division in Merritt, BC, are back to the regular weekly production meetings that are the standard at sawmills throughout Canada.

And that’s fine, as far as they’re concerned, having come off a busy year of construction that included $19 million of improvements to the sawmill and the planer at the division.“We’re just going through our ramp-up curve on the new small log line,” noted Tolko area manager Vern Parkstrom in May.

The production numbers are already starting to kick in. Preupgrade, the mill was turning out 170 million board feet. With the upgrades, the mill will turn out between 250 and 260 million board feet this year. The new and improved mill will really hit its stride next year, producing between 325 and 350 million board feet, operating on a three-shift basis, five days a week.

“We’re going to be at the pre-super mill stage,” Parkstrom says, noting that the benchmark for super mills used to be 300 million board feet. In recent years, the super mill mark has been raised and is now around 600 million board feet.

While the expansion and upgrade is good news, what brought it about in part came as the result of bad news. Two years ago, Tolko’s Louis Creek sawmill in Barriere, a few hours’ drive north from Merritt, was completely destroyed by a forest fire that swept through the community. “It was a sad day,” notes Parkstrom, who was working at Louis Creek at the time. “A lot of people had put a lot of time and effort into that mill.”

After the fire, Tolko did an exhaustive analysis of everything from its wood supply to mill capacities in the region. “We probably spent two months working with the teams at each division to figure out what we should do,” says Parkstrom. “At the end of that, it was very clear that adding capacity to the Merritt mill and our Lavington mill was the way to go.”

Tolko’s Merritt operation is getting additional timber as a result of an uplift in cut as part of the ongoing battle against the mountain pine beetle in British Columbia.

The timber that had been allocated to Louis Creek was redistributed to the Lavington and Merritt sawmills, hence part of the reason for the upgrade.

They also did some timber swaps with Weyerhaeuser, which has operations in the region, to bring timber closer to the mills.

Added to that, Tolko’s Merritt operation is getting additional timber as a result of an uplift in cut as part of the battle against the mountain pine beetle. They also saw an increased timber cut as the result of an Innovative Forest Practices program the company participated in with other licensees.

All of the above meant there would be enough timber to feed the upgraded operation at Merritt.

CWA Engineering did the concept for the upgrade, working with Tolko’s experienced staff. Woodpro Engineering handled the detailed engineering. The division was fortunate, in that it was able to lure former maintenance superintendent, Bruce Chesley, to take a break from his retirement and tackle the job of overseeing the construction job.

Parkstrom explains that the upgrade was broken down into several projects, the first of which took place in May 2004.“We knew we needed to handle more pieces through the whole back end of the mill, so we did a series of small—and not so small—projects back there to get ready for the extra piece count.”

This included a new unscrambler for the lumber stacker, a new Coe Newnes revolver lug loader on their trimmer, and a general retrofit on their trimmer system—going to smaller saws and one-foot saw spacing. This and other smaller projects were carried out by Alpha Welding.

The upgrade included additional log decks and another debarker. The Merritt mill already had a Valon Kone debarker in place,
and having had success with it, opted for another VKB debarker.

They also installed a new positioning fence and changed the smart gate behind the trimmer so it would act more quickly. This was followed by taking the top off their sorter and changing it over from a Jbar to a pusher lug. The equipment for this particular project was from Milltech, with Northway Construction doing the installation.

“Once we had the back end of the mill done, we put in more log decks and another debarker,” explains Parkstrom.

They already had a Valon Kone Brunette debarker in place, and having had success with it, opted for a VKB unit for their third debarker (the operation also has a Cambio debarker). To be consistent, they went for a 22-inch unit, like the other VKB unit, but with 17-inch rotors, since it would be handling smaller wood.

All of the main mechanical work for the log decks, debarkers and the installation of the small log line, was done by Central Mill Construction. Other companies contributing to the effort included K2 Electric, which handled the log decks and debarker electrical installation, and Milltron Electric, which did the electrical on the small log line.

Pneumatic conveying specialist Allied Blower was also a key supplier. The mill upgraded their chip blowing system.

While the blower itself was large enough, they went from a 10-inch pipe to a 12-inch pipe. “Allied put a new feeder in for us and upsized the chip blow line. At the same time, they upgraded our shaving extraction system on the planer, as well.” They selected a backwards inclined fan for the planer, and went to a high pressure blowing system, rather than a low pressure system.

Also in the planer, they installed a Linear High Grade (LHG) reader from Coe Newnes. The trim system was updated with a smaller diameter saw and a lowered head shaft. They changed over from their hydraulic feed for the planer and went to a Gilbert belt-driven VFD system.

All in all, it added up to about $3 million of improvements to the planer. The Merritt mill already had three dry kilns in place; they have added one Wellons kiln and there are plans to add an additional kiln, as production warrants.

At the heart of the upgrade is a new USNR small log breakdown system. The line features USNR’s new Knuckle Turner infeed system to rotate, slew and skew logs for optimum sawing orientation. Chipping canters with profiling modules then make the opening faces, and quad arbor saw boxes remove side boards from the cants.

The line features USNR’s Vertical Shape Sawing (VSS) gang with top and bottom profiling chip heads. This proven technology, unique to USNR, features a pivoting single vertical arbor with shifting saws and close-coupled chip heads.

According to USNR, the VSS combined with the Knuckle Turner Infeed dramatically reduces the real estate required for a small breakdown line.

In addition to handling more logs, the upgrade was designed with getting more out of each log. “Our existing canter, although it is a good piece of equipment, was taking everything from a four-inch top up to a 17-inch log,” says Parkstrom.

“But it doesn’t do as good a job on the small wood, of course, because it has been built to handle the larger wood.”

The USNR line now capably handles the smaller wood, with an average of a 5.6- to 5.8-inch diameter top. The large log line, which used to average about a seven-inch top, will probably average out around 8.6 inches. Parkstrom and the construction team were pleased with how the project went. “The execution of the project went amazingly well,” he says. “The difficult part was the tie-in and the start-up. Probably the biggest issue we had was with the trimmer and sorter projects in the sawmill.

Out in the log yard, Tolko Merritt added to its equipment line-up with a new Cat 966 loader.

“Lumber sorters can be one of the hardest things to do simply because everything you do in the sorter is repeated by the number of bins you have. “So if you get one wrong, you get them all wrong.” Milltech, in particular, faced some challenges with this work, but Parkstrom notes that they stuck at it until it performed well.

The new equipment required some training on the part of employees. Parkstrom explains that the new line has more ControlLogix controls than they were used to, so there was some training there. Several electricians and quality control people went to the supplier operation where the optimization was done, and several millwrights and maintenance supervisors went to USNR facilities to learn more about the new equipment.

An identical USNR line was also installed at Tolko’s mill in High Level, Alberta. It was already up and running, so they sent an operator and a saw filer up there for training. “They came back and are spreading that knowledge,” notes Parkstrom.

“We’ve done enough training to get us started, but we realize we are going to have to do more. But with all the technology, and with each part of the technology, there was really nothing totally new to us. It was how it was all put together that was new.”

In terms of additional mobile equipment, the mill added a Cat 966 loader to the yard fleet. The timber coming in the yard has taken on a new look these days. One of their main contractors has switched over to cut-to-length. How that works out might dictate whether the mill needs to move to an optimized bucking system.

Overall, Parkstrom says, it was very demanding for the sawmill operation and its employees to be in a constant state of start-up for over a year. “But our people took it all in stride and worked through the inevitable start-up glitches with great determination. Basically, we only lost two days of production time with the whole project.

“What I’m most proud of is our safety record over the last three-and-a-half years and during the period of construction.

We only had one time lost accident in all that time. That includes all of the contractors—and we had eight contractors on site—and their people doing 11 separate projects in the last year. We were able to accomplish all that work without anybody getting hurt.”


Active time for Allied Blower

In addition to working on Tolko’s Merritt sawmill/planer upgrade, Allied Blower has
taken on a number of other projects. The company, which specializes in pneumatic conveying, dust collection and air pollution control systems, is supplying complete dust extraction and pneumatic conveying systems for the new Canfor-LP OSB plant in Fort St John, BC.

Due to the close proximity of Fort St John and its airport, Allied had to adhere to a strict dust emission standard when considering equipment specifications for the OSB plant. All four of their fabrication plants in Western Canada (three in BC and one in Alberta) will be involved in the supply of ducting components and equipment.

This mill will have green end, forming line and finishing end dust collection systems with three baghouses and a cyclone in a common “filter island” steel structure with ladders to permit easy access to all maintenance points. Allied is also providing the bubbling system for the log conditioning vats as well as the vent hood and exhaust system for the press.

The company was also involved in a railcar loading project for Tolko at High Level,
Alberta. Using an automatic diverter valve, the new 18-inch blowline system can convey wood chips either 2,000 feet to the new Wig-Wag loader or 1,000 feet to the chip pile. The mechanical component was designed, manufactured and installed by Allied. The electrical component was handled in-house by Tolko. Stolberg Engineering assisted on the layout work.

The new system will allow Tolko, who up until now shipped all its chips via truck, the
option of shipping via railcar. The shipments will consist of 70 car unit trains. One of the many advantages of loading cars with a pneumatic Wig-Wag loader is that when the chips are blown into the car, the resulting compaction allows for up to 30 per cent more chips to be loaded, as opposed to loading by other methods, resulting in reduced shipping costs.


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