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July August 2005  - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal



Massive Rebuild

The massive $104 million rebuild/expansion at Canfor’s Plateau operation in BC will see the mill ramping up production to the super mill level—600 million board feet—and with a big consideration on how best to handle bug-killed wood.

By Jim Stirling

Front-end loaders square to their task, scooping up the dead and damaged lodge pole pine and delivering it to the infeed decks at Canfor Plateau’s sawmill. They work away, shift, shift out.

The mill near Vanderhoof in central British Columbia lies amidst a sea of timber devastated by the mountain pine beetle epidemic. It is the fibre of necessity. But necessity is the mother of invention. And while the front-end loaders will continue delivering bug-killed fibre through the next few years, the mill accepting it is being comprehensively changed.

The Plateau operation has a tight construction schedule. The existing mill will remain in production during the rebuilding process, with the exception of two planned downtimes.


Canfor has launched a $104 million rebuilding and expansion project at Plateau. The mill has traditionally been a large, highly successful sawmilling operation and Canfor’s investment will ensure it remains that way.

Efficient utilization of available fibre is a catalyst for the project, but it will contribute other significant benefits. The rebuilding process is designed to improve productivity in the mill. It will help it achieve recovery and value gains. The emphasis is on the operation being cost effective, a competitive necessity in the commodity lumber business.

The new-look Plateau will also have built-in flexibility. It will allow the mill to accommodate changes in fibre type as the diet of bug-killed wood eventually abates, matched with an ability to diversify lumber products. Right up there, too, in terms of benefits, is the rebuild project will maintain the mill’s employment base for the foreseeable future, excellent news for the economic security of the Vanderhoof region.

The existing mill will remain in production during the rebuilding process, with the exception of two planned downtimes. It’s a tight construction schedule. Most of the new equipment should be up and running by the end of 2005. The rebuild will ramp up production from around 420 million board feet a year to 600 million, primarily in 2x4, 2x6 and 2x8 dimension lumber products. The 600 million board feet level will elevate Plateau to a super mill, on par with Canfor’s Houston operation, the largest in the world in terms of production.

A $104 million project is not undertaken lightly. Nor is it a new concept to Plateau. “We’ve been talking about a rebuild here for a number of years,” recalls Ted Anthony, Plateau’s general manager, referring to the times when Slocan Forest Products was the mill’s operator.

Relatively minor upgrades have been routine in the mill through the years. But some of the scanning technology dates back to the mid-1980s. It’s hard to get parts or technicians familiar with it. Also, a bottleneck was created behind the canter in “A” mill, the operation’s large log side, explains Anthony. The result: downstream equipment couldn’t run at full speed, thereby incurring production losses. The question became how best to make changes. Any change made at one machine centre has repercussions on equipment speed and efficiency up-and downstream.

The beetle wood fibre, the desire to improve the mill and keep people working all contributed to the rebuild decision, says Anthony. “And we wanted to do it fairly quickly given the risk of forest fires.” Vast swathes of dry, dead standing timber are prime for wildfires.

About 70 per cent of timber in Plateau’s interest areas is dry belt pine, complemented by 20 per cent spruce and 10 per cent balsam.

Plateau’s licences are for 619,000 cubic metres/year, some volume from which will be reallocated under provincial government policy. “We’ve always been very heavy to the open market for at least 50 per cent of our wood requirements and that will increase in the future,” predicts Anthony.

Plateau has accumulated considerable experience with beetle-killed and damaged pine. It’s been the mill’s focus since 1999, and the intent is to harvest 80 per cent of wood that’s been attacked, he outlines. The mill will also use year one attack (from the previous summer’s beetle flight) with the insects still in the trees.The challenge is to assess subtle changes in the pine fibre from years one through 10 and beyond.

Plateau’s foresters have conducted extensive field studies and examined the dynamics of beetle flight. When does sap rot begin, when does checking start, where in the tree and what types of cracks are they? These were some of the questions requiring answers. The indications are that in Plateau’s wood, 60 per cent of the cracking is spiral and 40 per cent straight. All those factors have implications on how to process the wood and minimize conversion costs in the rebuilt mill.

“We had to look at where the impact of this timber would be and what that means to the company, the mill, its employees, contractors and the community,” adds Anthony.

The nature of the fibre equates to processing accurately smaller pieces of dry wood at high speeds. The trick is to determine where the cracks are and turn the log and control it so the crack is in a position where it does not affect all the boards in the log, summarizes Anthony.

“There’s lots to learn through this process, it’s a whole new way of thinking,” he adds.

Ted Anthony, Plateau’s general manager (above, inset). Dealing with large volumes of beetle-killed wood brings its own challenges, Anthony notes. “There’s a lot to learn through this process. It’s a whole new way of thinking.”

Plateau’s “A” mill has one breakdown line and can handle logs from seven inches in diameter up to 25 inches. “B” mill, the small log side, has two breakdown lines. It can accommodate logs up to 15 inches in diameter, but more typically processes wood seven inches and less.

Changes introduced in the mill rebuild will see “A” mill throughput increase from 4,000 logs/shift to 8,000. In“B” mill, the corresponding figures will be from 16,000 to 20,000 logs up to 16 feet in length. A production of about two million board feet/shift is anticipated when the rebuild is complete. The lumber sorting system will operate at speeds of 180 to 200 lugs/minute, about double the pre-project levels.

Three new debarkers are among the new equipment to be installed. A 27-inch Nicholson A8 will handle the task in “A” mill with 22-inch A8s on the “B” mill lines. The debarkers are designed to run at speeds up to 550 feet/minute, depending on log size.

Porter Engineering controls will be used on both “A” and “B” mills. Optimized merchandising programs integrated with true shape scanning will help detect crack locations in each log, along with blue stain, and in turn dictate auto-rotation for the optimum processing decisions at the canters. The Porter system will begin at the debarkers and end at the canter out feed in “A” mill and from the debarkers to the infeed of a new Comact three-saw board edger in “B” mill.

In “A” mill, a Comact wave feeder to the canter infeed will automatically set the log gaps at about 12 feet for passage through the machine. Other new downstream equipment includes a Coe Newnes gang edger, lumber fence and trimmer and about 50 Comact lumber bins with stacker and auto strip laying. (Tops from “A” mill can be directed to either of the “B” mill lines.)

The Plateau rebuild will ramp up mill production from around 420 million board feet a year to 600 million, primarily in 2x4, 2x6 and 2x8 dimension lumber products.


The Comact canters in “B” mill will be equipped with double- length infeeds with sideboard capabilities and a TBL three saw gang edger. The latter machine has the ability to straight and curve saw. It’s the infeeds that move the logs, not the saws that do the moving. Anthony notes the straight and curve sawing capability helps maximize recovery and product value. The configuration is also easy to clean of any residues from dry cracked logs. Provision of pockets for products cut to differing patterns and careful material handling of the dry cracked logs are also features of “B” mill.

Comact will also supply the out feed decks from the edger through the transfers, sorters and stackers. The trimmer and fence will be supplied by Coe Newnes with Comact controls. A moisture sorting system is also scheduled for installation. Products from “A” and “B” mills will be able to run to either sorter. New chip screens, residue handling systems and high efficiency cyclones are also to be incorporated.

Additionally, the mill’s safety committees are trying to involve the WCB and other agencies like BC Hydro’s Power Smart to incorporate any changes to equipment and procedures as the rebuild project proceeds, adds Anthony.

No new dry kiln capacity is required in the rebuild, one advantage of a diet of bug-killed wood. “The material is already very dry and will take less time in the kiln to bring to temperature and drying to correct moisture content,” observes Anthony.

The construction process underway at the Plateau sawmill in the BC Interior (right). Most of the new equipment should be up and running at the mill by the end of 2005.


In the new planer mill, 2x8 material will be ripped sawed ahead of a Coe Newnes infeed and double-load tilt hoist. Coe Newnes transfers will deliver boards to two new Gilbert planers. The pull-through style planers will operate at feed speeds of about 3,000 feet/minute. Behind the planers will be an Auto log linear grade reader and optimizer and a Metriguard MSR machine. Coe Newnes will supply and control the rest of the planer’s transfers, infeeds, unscramblers, the trim saws and drop out. The stackers will be manufactured and controlled by Comact. The planer, too, will have about a 50-bin sorting system.

Stolberg Engineering of Richmond, BC is a major consultant on the rebuild project. Milltron Electric of Prince George is supplying electrical contractor services. Ernie Redford of Redford Project Management in Prince George is the on-site project manager.

Anthony says flexibility is being built into the mill to change as fibre does. There are high performance expectations from the rebuilt operation although he predicts fibre supply will produce as yet uncontemplated surprises.

Plateau is focusing on replanting its forest lands as the dead pine are harvested. But there, too, the beetle wood throws a curve to conventional reforestation practices. The dead pine are creating wetter ground, placing additional considerations on the right types of seedlings to be planted site specifically. The company has had the foresight to aggressively collect pine seeds to ensure at least a 20-year supply.

It’s a further example of Canfor Plateau’s vision for the future.


Major project has SafeStart approach

Working safely assumes a heightened dimension during the major sawmill rebuilding project underway at Canfor Plateau.The workplace changes significantly and continually with the phases of construction and equipment installation, while the existing mill must continue meeting production standards.

Plateau has in place a vigilant safety committee, well-established safe work procedures and adheres fully to all WCB rules and regulations governing a safe industrial workplace. But Plateau also has SafeStart.

It’s a program that looks at the behavior and human side of safety.“It’s a different way to look at safety,” says Garth Heavenor, Plateau’s electrical supervisor. “It applies both on and off the job, and basically it’s about hazard awareness.”

SafeStart was developed by Larry Wilson, a safety consultant.It’s built around four states every worker experiences at one time or another: rushing, frustration, fatigue and complacency. SafeStart maintains these states cause or contribute to critical errors: eyes not on task; mind not on task; being in or unaware of the line of fire; and doing something that can cause loss of balance, traction or grip. All of those errors increase the risk of injury.

SafeStart was introduced at Plateau about four years ago. It’s a voluntary program, open to everyone including the company’s logging contractors. It involves explaining the program’s intent to small groups of interested employees and presenting it as part of accident prevention. “Changing behaviors takes time, patience and practice,” says Heavenor. “And it does take resources.” He says absorbing SafeStart into Plateau’s safety culture was possible because of the mill manager’s commitment to safety issues.

Additional Info

If you're building a deck or doing any project that involves wood, be sure to pick only quality lumber.  You wouldn't consider building a log cabin with rotten wood, would  you?  The same mindfulness is required when building anything.  From treehouses and fences to birdhouses and violins, only choose the best timber to work with.



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