Slocan’s Mackenzie Operations in BC are very close to delivering on targeted volumes following an extensive planer modernization.
By Jim Stirling
The people at Slocan Group’s Mackenzie Operations in British Columbia understand that the constant striving to attain goals is a competitive business necessity, rather than inspirational jargon. It’s part of the culture and a cornerstone of the vision driving the operation of the company’s recently modernized planermill. The objective is to run two million board feet of lumber a day through the planer in a safe and efficient working environment.
The mill isn’t quite there yet—it was averaging more than 1.9 million board feet a day this past summer—but it has every intention of reaching its full potential. “We’re getting satisfied, but we’re still learning,” summarizes Keith McGregor, divisional manager. “A big part of the project is people learning the maintenance and production aspects of the plant. “We know what the plant and its people are capable of producing,” he says, adding that the hard work and growing experience are paying dividends. “There have been lots of positive changes and successes in the last six months.”
Slocan’s Mackenzie Operations, located about 200 kilometres north of Prince George in north central BC, are on a grand scale. Five production lines in two sawmills running on a four shifts a day basis generate more than 450 million board feet of lumber a year, making it one of the largest complexes of its kind in North America. Slocan recognized that the two planers that were on site lacked the capability of a two million board foot a day throughput. The facilities had been good servants but “A” planer dated back to the late 1960s and the other plant was installed in the early 1970s.
Slocan examined its options and decided to consolidate a twin line planing operation within one expanded building. To the considerable credit of all involved, the new planer emerged after 10 months of upheaval pretty much on budget, on time and accident-free—all the while maintaining production levels. The $18-million plant would have cost considerably more without incorporating existing serviceable equipment into the re-invigorated flow, points out McGregor. For example, the two Stetson Ross 614 planers remain at work.
The machines had to be raised from ground level, one more than three metres, and meticulously re-set. Equipment new to the planing operation includes side-by-side Metriguard 7200 MSR machines, both equipped with computer-generated stress rating data systems. SharkFin board turners installed on the grading table help reduce muscular/skeletal action required by the graders’ fast repetitive movements. A CAE Newnes 60-bin lumber sorter was installed on each production line.
They were among the first pusher style sorter systems installed by CAE (now a division of Coe Manufacturing). Two new CAE Newnes trimmers were also incorporated into the sort system. At the other end of the building, two tilt hoists of impressive proportions deliver lumber from the kilns to the planing process. The single load hoists were designed and built by Linden Fabricating in concert with International Quest Engineering.
They deliver lumber 14 vertical feet from kiln level to planermill floor and have proven high speed, simple and effective. Prince George-based International Quest was responsible for design and construction of the modernized planer and Slocan’s John Fisher was project engineer. The 3,600 square metres of space in the new planer allows for the provision of new technology in the future. Included in capital plans are grading optimization and auto packaging systems. A tenth dry kiln—a 150-foot Coe—was added in the summer of 2002, allowing the drying of three million board feet of lumber at any one time.
The sorter line is enclosed in the new section of the planer which incorporates, where feasible, the use of wood in the building design and construction. It makes sense and looks good. Slocan utilized its own high grade beams and incorporated panel products from the company’s OSB plant in Fort Nelson, BC. Another neat design feature is the plant’s control centre, its digital brain. Elevated above locker space and lunchroom, it provides a panoramic view at the heart of the plant’s lineal product flow.
The operation continues producing the same dimension products, 2x4 to 2x12 in eight- to 20-foot lengths and J-grade for home construction markets in the US, Canada and Asia. The four inch and some six inch run on one production side, with six and eight to 12 inch on the other. Dedicating one production line in the planer to smaller widths has proven a smart move. There is enough four-inch volume to run that line all year, says McGregor. Benefits include tighter lug spaces with the consistent widths.
Not having to change to other dimensions allows the trimming system to be specified for narrows and the bins to be designed a little differently. “We can fine-tune the whole line for those widths,” he says. Four dry kilns and their outfeeds are similarly fine-tuned to the uniform and controlled reduction of moisture content in four-inch lumber charges. But despite the four-inch line advantages, it’s not constraining because the volume exists to run on both lines, adds McGregor. It’s important to the operation that throughput be meshed with operational feed speeds.
McGregor says the four-inch line runs typically at 100 to 115 lugs per minute, depending on the length of four-inch material. The plant emphasizes efforts to maximize grade out-turns and minimize trim losses. He notes grading quality hasn’t suffered as speeds have gradually increased. What has changed is an expansion in the plant’s quality control program. Inventory grade checks, lumber sizes and packaging have all come under increased scrutiny. The addition of the MSR capability alone means more test sampling and quality verification procedures.
The expanded and vigilant quality control program—along with the fact everyone in the planermill has new aspects of the job to contend with—contribute to the learning curve. New equipment and the introduction of dozens of variable frequency drives into the operation compound the familiarization process. “It can take six months to a year to see and experience all the little changes that occur at each function in the mill flow,” explains McGregor. “We’re still encountering things for the first time.”
Safety changes and procedures must also be understood and ingrained. Learning the nuances of a new plant is further challenged by the imposition of the 27 per cent duty on softwood lumber entering the US. “It forces us to get better,” says McGregor. They have to compete in the marketplace; it’s where they have to be with this plant, he adds. It is also why the focus on details is critical.
A small percentage saving in any given area can have a significant profitability impact with the large volume handled by the operation. Volume and cost competitiveness is what it’s all about. McGregor believes the combination of good equipment and people are the ingredients to create an exceedingly competitive plant. “The planer project sets us up to get through the next decade and the ability to add more technology rounds out the vision,” he concludes.
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