May 2005 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal
High volume/quality from small logs
Bowater has invested $96 million to construct and refurbish both its Thunder Bay and Ignace sawmills, with production designs geared toward high volume and quality from small logs.
By Tony Kryzanowski
In a region where approximately 4,000 forestry workers have lost their jobs, Bowater Canadian Forest Products has put the throttle wide open on two high performance sawmills in northwestern Ontario, expecting that technology, efficiency and production of high-grade softwood lumber will keep its sawmills profitable. Workers in northwestern Ontario have been hit particularly hard because of mill closures and temporary layoffs resulting from fibre shortages, bad weather, the high Canadian dollar, the American softwood lumber tariff, and inefficient production methods. Some local politicians blame a combination of provincial initiatives, such as Lands for Life and Room To Grow, for taking as much as 20 per cent of the wood supply out of commercial production, and as being major contributors to mill closures and job loss.
The new Bowater mill in Thunder Bay itself shut down for about a month in June 2004 for lack of fibre. The sawmill was back up and running in early July 2004, and Luke Drapeau, general manager for Bowater’s Ontario sawmills, says it appears the company’s fibre woes are behind it for now. Bowater has invested $96 million to construct and refurbish both its Thunder Bay and Ignace sawmills, with production designs geared toward high volume and quality from small logs. Jean Beaulieu, Bowater vice-president of wood products, was a strong advocate of the investment and had considerable input into the project throughout the process. “We had an opportunity to build two very modern sawmills as part of Bowater’s overall fibre strategy in northwestern Ontario,” he says. “The Ignace sawmill was shut down at the time of acquisition while the Thunder Bay sawmill presented the opportunity to build one of the largest and most modern facilities east of the Rockies in cooperation with Fort Williams First Nation.”
He adds that the sawmills were designed and constructed with the people who operate them today. Special priority was given to build in safety systems and equipment that would facilitate continuous safe operating procedures. The average diameter of logs designated for both sawmills is about 5.5 inches. The sawmills are designed to process logs down to a two-inch top and manufacture lumber from logs taken down to a three-inch top. Thunder Bay consumes 850,000 cubic metres of softwood, while Ignace consumes a further 400,000 cubic metres. Their wood diet is about a 50/50 mix of black spruce and jackpine.
The wood comes from a 250 kilometre perimeter around each mill. BC-based Pederson Management and Alberta-based CLLB Consulting were consultants on all facets of the project. Quebec-based Comact was the turnkey forestry equipment supplier and installation contractor for both projects. Perforex Systems provided the software and reporting systems for managing performance on a daily basis. “We plan to be a top quartile producer because it is the top quartile producers that are going to survive,” says Drapeau. “Our technology and people are going to carry us through.”
Drapeau adds that the reality of the Canadian softwood lumber market is that there is considerable consolidation taking place, partially due to the challenge of remaining competitive with having to pay a countervailing duty at the current level of 21 per cent on lumber shipped to the United States. One need look no further than BC where larger, regional sawmills are being built to attain the highest productivity possible. “We’re being forced to get bigger, stronger, and more efficient,” says Drapeau. “It all comes back to economies of scale and driving to have bigger facilities with higher volumes. A lot of the smaller facilities below 100 million board feet are very challenged to survive.”
Bowater’s Thunder Bay sawmill is designed to annually produce 180 million board feet of lumber up to 10 feet in length, operating on two shifts daily. Its Ignace sawmill has an annual capacity of producing 85 million board feet up to nine feet in length. The company has met its objective of producing consistently high grade dimension lumber. In 2004, Bowater’s Thunder Bay sawmill was rated number one for consistent quality among the 28 members of the Canadian Lumber Association. About 90 per cent of its grade out-turn is stud grade or better. Beaulieu says this achievement, plus the sawmill’s safety and productivity performance, is a confirmation of the concept and the management excellence of Drapeau and his team.
The sawmill opened in May 2003, while the refurbished sawmill in Ignace is currently in a start-up phase. Area logging is nearly year round. The sawmill’s yard inventory system is managed as close as possible to just-in-time delivery. Logs are stored with an inventory target of only five to 10 days, a good portion of which is stored in a 270 degree radius around a 20-ton, Letourneau pedestal log crane, which feeds the slasher deck. “In four scoops, the log truck is empty,” says Drapeau. “This results in very quick turnaround time, very compressed inventory storage, as well as reduced breakage and handling.” Cutoff saws on the slasher deck cut tree-length logs into eight- and 10-foot lengths before they enter the mill. Prior to encountering one of four, 17-inch, VKB Kodiak debarkers, and after slashing, the logs travel through sorting traps where a crazy wheel system sorts out the short lengths and smaller diameter stems.
This fibre proceeds to a 60-foot, VKB rotary abrading debarker/reclaimer that feeds a 76-inch CAE chipper. A second chipper makes chips of all the edgings, trim blocks and other leftovers from the sawmilling process. Finally, this area also has a cut-to-length re-entry system where the sawmill processes its private wood, directing sawlogs and pulp wood into their appropriate production streams. Larger logs are fed through the number one debarker, which has been equipped with a VKB butt reducer. It can transform a log with up to a 24-inch diameter butt into a manageable cylinder. After the debarkers, a two-axis scanning system sorts the logs into one of eight bins.
The sawmill has three lines. Smaller logs up to eight inches in diameter are processed through one of two lines equipped with Comact DDM6 saw units with profile heads. These small log lines are capable of running at 550 feet per minute. The large log line is equipped with a single length infeed and canter quad saw system. Sideboards proceed to a Comact board edger that processes up to 42 pieces per minute. After being processed through the canter quad, the cant is turned over and fed through a 600 horsepower, curved sawing gang edger, which Drapeau says is sometimes referred to as a “wiggle box.” He says all three lines have curved sawing capability. In the case of the canter quad line, the cant is re-scanned prior to curved sawing through the gang edger. “The saw arbor actually articulates through the cant,” says Drapeau, versus other curved sawing systems where the log itself is curved through a saw system to produce lumber along the natural grain.
The rough green lumber then proceeds to a two-stage unscrambler, through Comact’s hydraulic rotary lug loader, and then through trimmer optimizers. Once the boards are trimmed, they encounter one of two stations where they are scanned for moisture content. It is an electrical capacitance system provided by NMI, an equipment supplier located in Fort St James, BC. The lumber is sorted by dimension and moisture content in an effort to produce more homogenous drying charges, which results in more consistent kiln drying. There are three green lumber sorts based on moisture content. Lumber with heavy moisture content is air dried in the yard for up to eight weeks before kiln drying.
Unlike many other sawmills, Bowater builds larger eight-foot by eight-foot stacker loads, again to achieve more consistent drying and to reduce handling. “We put a lot of emphasis on our kiln drying because you have to maintain product value,” says Drapeau. “You can’t put it back in the chipper once you’ve spent all that time on it.” The sawmill’s Wellon Energy System is uniquely positioned between two sets of 128-foot Wellon kilns. “The 60 million BTU Lamont burner heats thermal oil with our planer shavings to provide heat for our double-pass, multi-zoned kilns,” explains Drapeau. “It is a very clean and efficient process.” The planer mill is situated under the same roof and features a Gilbert-Tech planer with pull-through rather than push-through technology. It is capable of planing 2,000 feet per minute. After the planer, the finished lumber passes through another NMI moisture detection system, and then through a Comact transverse grade optimizer. “The geometric component of grading is completely handled by this machine,” says Drapeau. “Graders only intervene for natural defects.” The system can handle 180 pieces per minute, and after a final visual inspection through three grading stations, the lumber encounters an automatic trimmer. “This two-stage trimmer gives us our multiple precision end trimming capacity,” says Drapeau.
The lumber is then grade stamped, bar coded if necessary, and packaged for shipping. Beaulieu says Bowater is satisfied with both its Thunder Bay and Ignace facilities. “They are very good operations that were built on budget,” he says. “They are well balanced and provide a top quality product—safely.”
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