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Oct  2003


Boosting production

BC’s Houston Forest Products is adding a planer line and relocating part of the existing planer line to achieve flexibility, cut trim losses and boost sawmill production

By Jim Stirling

At the end of a $14 million upgrade, Houston Forest Products will have two planers and the flexibility of a two-line mill, translating into more production.

The relentless pursuit of improvement and efficiency continues despite the raft of uncertainties facing British Columbia’s forest industry. There’s little choice if staying in business is the goal. Changes are essential to fine tuning the increasingly elusive competitive edge. Houston Forest Products is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2003, representing a quarter century of successfully overcoming challenges. Presently, as one project becomes an operational contributor to the evolving sawmill and planing complex in west central BC, another initiative is gathering momentum.

The most recently completed installation involved a Carter Systems vent exchanger. It preheats enough in-board air to run a new Salton dry kiln, complementing the company’s five existing kilns. It was the first time the vent exchange system has been applied to a six kiln set-up, reports Arnie Federink, production manager at Houston Forest Products. The additional heat equivalent to run the sixth kiln takes the load off the mill’s energy system and has really opened up their drying efficiencies since coming online in January 2003, he adds. The planer at the operation is front and centre as the major anniversary year project. “Our planer is the original, built in 1978, although it has undergone modifications. On the other hand, we’ve invested in our sawmill over the last 10 years and it’s running very well,” outlines Federink. However, the improved sawmill’s capacity is limited because of the older planer’s limitations and the product range has been compromised.

The solution at Houston Forest Products is to build a second planer line and relocate part of the existing one. “At the end of the project, we’ll have two planers and the flexibility of a two-line mill. Trim losses will drop and sawmill production will increase,” predicts Federink. The $14 million project is based on production of 315 million board feet of lumber generated annually at the mill, owned jointly by Weldwood of Canada and West Fraser Timber. The project was scheduled for completion by the end of October 2003. When you look at the profile out of the sawmill, their lumber is longer, narrower and squarer, continues Federink.

A recent installation at Houston Forest Products involved a Carter System vent exchanger. It heats enough in-board air to run a new Salton dry kiln, complementing the company’s five existing kilns.

Incorporating high graders on to both planer lines and the ability to not skip a lug on an upper and lower deck configuration is expected to improve grade values, he explains. The new planer isn’t new at all. It’s a rebuilt Stetson-Ross machine upgraded by Progressive Mill Supplies. It includes installation of a new Gilbert Tech drive. The machine complements the existing Stetson-Ross planer and retains a feature and operational comfort level in the mill. Federink says the majority of the remainder of the new planer line is supplied by Milltech with Salem Contracting doing most of the installation work.

Exceptions include the two Autolog scanning and optimizing grading systems and a Gemofor precision trimmer. Consulting engineers Anthony-Seaman are working with Houston Forest Products on the planer project. Two slower planer lines feeding a higher speed sort line will boost the existing 100 lugs/min production speed to an anticipated 140-160 lugs/min. The relatively slower planing—combined with the optimized grading systems—will help produce better trimming decisions which will in turn extract more value from the products, says Federink.

The ability to feed either line and split flows helps ease production bottlenecks and smooth out production flows, he notes. The new look planer mill’s versatility and flexibility will stand it in good stead to handle any increases in beetle wood volumes, he adds. That is a distinct possibility. The mountain pine beetle epidemic in the BC Interior is getting progressively worse. Strides have been taken and aggressive harvesting strategies adopted to try and contain the rate of beetle infestation by concentrating on green attack and adjacent vulnerable stands. But as dead and dying wood left standing in the epidemic’s wake accumulates, the greater pressure regional licencees like Houston Forest Products will be under to optimize the wood’s value.

The beetle wood situation is a reminder that capital improvement projects in the sawmilling context are about addressing known needs and trying to accommodate those factors that have a good chance of occurring in the future. It’s also why a philosophy proven during the company’s sawmill improvements through the years has been adopted into the new planer. “It’s a pretty simple flow and that makes good sense to us,” says Federink.

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