March 2005 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal
New Mill for California
Pacific Lumber Company — the world’s largest redwood producer — has started up a new $30 million sawmill operation, the first mill to be built in California in 10 years.
By Alan Froome
The community of Scotia, California is one of the last company towns still intact in the United States. It is also probably one of the most attractive and well-maintained sawmill towns anywhere. Scotia is also the headquarters of Palco, the Pacific Lumber Company, the world’s largest producer of Redwood timber products.
Palco recently completed work on a significant new project in Scotia: the first full service sawmill built in California in 10 years. They dedicated the new sawmill in November after a very rapid ramp-up. In fact construction started in April 2004 and the first lumber was produced in July 2004. The new sawmill is not the first on this site. As a timber company, Palco dates back to 1863, when 6,000 acres of timberland was purchased along the banks of the Eel River, just south of the California town of Eureka. The price at the time was $1.25 an acre. More land was later purchased and a sawmill established. Despite destruction by fire in 1895 and three earthquakes in 1992, the company has survived and prospered. Today, Palco owns over 200,000 acres within 30 miles of the town and in recent years has donated large tracts of old growth forest for public parkland and to protect wildlife. Roughly twothirds of the timberlands are redwood and the rest is a mix of Douglas and white fir.
Palco is a unique company. Although it is a subsidiary of Maxxam Inc of Houston, Texas, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, it looks after its town and its employees in a paternal way. Many employees are third or fourth generation and all their kids get a gift at Christmas. The company has built a school, a hospital, a theatre and a skating rink as well as affordable housing in the town, almost all of it using redwood lumber.
On the environmental front, Dennis Wood, vice-president of operations, proudly states that "Palco is certified under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) program and we maintain a department of 40 scientists, dedicated to sustainable forest management and wildlife habitat conservation". Palco has its own forestry department, which is largely concerned with replanting trees as part of the company’s commitment to the SFI program. The new mill investment is part of a broader overall strategy at Palco. "The $30 million investment at Scotia will allow us to process smaller second growth logs, help us stay competitive and enable us to continue our contribution to the community and the economy," says Robert Manne, the company’s CEO and president. The project consisted of a new $25 million sawmill, and a $5 million planer mill, both built in 2004. Almost all of the new equipment was designed and supplied as a turnkey package by Quebec-based Comact Inc.
The machines and conveying systems were built in three different Comact plants: St. Georges, Quebec; Vanderhoof, BC; and Hot Springs, Arkansas. Like some recent US mill upgrades, the new Scotia mill is designed to run on three shifts and was scheduled to do so early in 2005. Each crew works four 10-hour shifts, for a total of 120 hours a week. A total of 265 people will be employed at Scotia when it goes to three-shift operation. Later in 2005, the headrig/carriage from Palco’s large log (up to a 72"diameter) Carlotta mill will be relocated to Scotia so that larger logs can also be processed. The Carlotta mill will then be closed. At present, the new Comact machines are limited to a 24" max butt diameter and down to a 5" top.
The Scotia mill processes tree length logs up to 55 ft long, in a typical mix of 60 per cent second growth redwood and 40 per cent fir. Lumber is produced from 6 to 20 ft long in a large variety of sizes. Redwood is prized for its ability to stand up to outdoor use without treating, so a good deal of redwood is used to make playground sets, decking, gazebos and garden furniture. However, an antistain and mold spray is still applied to both species in the planer mill.
There has been a strong focus on automation and optimization at the Scotia mill. "The new mill is highly automated and every piece of lumber will have been scanned six times by the time it leaves us," said Henry (Huey) Long Jr, director of sawmill operations. Long said the project was overseen by consultant Bob Dubal of Portland, Ore., but the main detailed design work was carried out by Comact as part of a turnkey package. "We spent six months developing the new mill concept and traveled all over, from Florida to BC, looking at small log techniques," says Long. "Comact got the job because they have a good reputation dealing with small logs and because they could take care of all the project’s detailed work and engineering."
The new mill was designed to maximize the use of scanners and computer optimization to achieve high recovery. A crew of only 27 people are required on the mill floor per shift. "The production target is 50,000 board feet per hour," says Long. "This translates to a three-shift potential of 6 million board feet a week." From a maintenance standpoint, Long said: "All three of our sawmills are within a 10 mile radius, so a single department can service all three. We have 53 people on staff, including 17 saw filers, working on staggered shifts to provide 24/7 service."
The new mill at Scotia was built
in some giant warehouse buildings, already on site. Included in the equipment
line-up at the new mill are:
Among the notable features is a new single arbor 8" cant gang, which was included because there is absolutely no mismatch permitted with redwood. This might occur with a double arbor setup. What is particularly notable in the new mill are the pushbutton grading systems with seated operators, which is more common in Scandinavia. "These are new systems in the US, but we have now supplied three of them, including the two systems at Palco," explained Mike Freeman of Comact. "The main lumber flows at a lower level and every fourth board is raised to the individual operator’s level for a grade decision."
With the Comact system, the four operators are seated on a raised platform with a clear view of the lumber. The control console is set up so that the operator’s left hand selects the trim and the right hand selects the grade. The trim decision includes cutting out any defects. All redwood is graded at this point, but the fir is not graded until it reaches the planer mill in a separate building, where a similar four person grading station is used. Palco’s Huey Long said that some redwood is sold green and some is sold air-seasoned, rather than kiln dried. Incidentally, the grade stamp is put on the end of the Redwood lumber, not the side, so as not to mar the appearance of this valuable wood. Also not so common in the US is the use of tree length debarking (before scanning and bucking) and computer controlled bucking. "Optimum bucking is the first chance we have to affect the overall mill recovery," Long commented.
The mill has 30 kiln tracks and the kilns are heated by steam generated by the on-site co-gen plant, which runs on wood waste from the sawmill. This generates more than enough electricity to run the mill and the surplus is sold to the local power company. At the planer mill, most of the equipment and transfer systems were supplied by Comact, with the exception of the planer itself. This is a USNR machine with 22 knife heads and is operated regularly at speeds up to 2,200 fpm. The control systems used throughout the new mill use Allen-Bradley programmable logic controllers with VersaView touch screens, which can be seen everywhere around the building.
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