March April 2005




 Getting into Small Logs in a Big Way

By Barbara Coyner

Herb Hazen has a mind for business, while Calvin Hogg is a number cruncher, but when it came to the future of Three Rivers Timber in North Central Idaho, both reached for the same logic. Whatís the competition doing? They looked across the U.S., overseas at Scandinavia, then northward to Canada. Scouting for ways to maintain a competitive edge, Three Rivers Timber joined the small log game with a state-of-the-art Comact Hi-Tech small log processor, augmented by a high-speed Nicholson A8 debarker. The system went on-line in the summer of 2004, and according to both Hazen and Hogg, "so far, so good."

Sales Manager Paul Caba likes the SFI-certified lumber.

Looking Ahead
"In this business you have to lower production costs per thousand board foot by making the most high quality lumber you can per hour," says Hogg, the Three Rivers CFO, who has been with the Kamiah mill since 1996. "You have to get some idea of what competitors are doing. That doesnít just mean the mill down the road. That means the entire U.S. market and Canada. You have to get that leg up and let the technology out there help you choose the equipment." Hazen, the president at Three Rivers, agrees, noting, "If youíre going to compete, you have to step up, analyze and make a commitment. We said we want to be here in the future, and in viewing the future, we knew thereís not much help from the market side, so the only side for us to improve is the cost side. Thatís what the new equipment does for us."

Picking the Right Equipment Hazen outlines the equipment lineup: a Nicholson A8 high-speed debarker with feed speeds of 550 feet per minute; two Comact Hi-Tech wave feeders; and a Comact Hi-Tech DDM- 10 single pass log processor, the crown jewel of the system. The processor, a scan and set machine that can saw on the curve, requires no prior sort. Each log is scanned individually, with pro-cessing capabilities for log diameters between 4 and 13 inches. The lightning fast unit feeds at 15 to 17 logs per minute, and will cut lumber 10 inches in width. The new system puts Three Rivers squarely in the small log game. "Thereís no other efficient small log converter in the Clearwater region," says Hazen. "Weíre the first, but we had to step up and pull it off. Other mills can convert small logs, but this new equipment allows us to do it faster with more efficiency than the others."

Facing a New Era
Hazen admits the regional wood basket has seen some changes. Five years ago, 70 percent of the millís log supply came from public lands, a combination of Forest Service, BLM and state acreage, with the other 30 percent filled out by private and industrial. That picture has now flipped over exactly opposite. Interestingly enough, the owner and CEO of Three Rivers Timber, Bill Mulligan, has been the areaís strongest advocate for getting some of the federal acres back in the wood basket, but the system remains in gridlock. Despite such external factors, Mulligan spearheaded the move to a small log side to augment the large log mill that already occupied the 105- acre mill site he purchased from Weyerhaeuser in 1996. Nobodyís questioned the leap of faith. After all, thereís plenty of small-diameter wood in the area, yet the nearest small log facility is over 150 miles away at Plummer. Mulligan and his team remain bullish that Three Rivers is in the right spot to succeed, with transportation and a gung ho workforce already in place. Meanwhile, Lyle Erlewine, the millís purchasing agent, keeps his own brag sheet on the gutsy shift to small log production capabilities. "It was a real challenge to put things together, but this system gave longevity to the sawmill, and to the community. The debarker is maintenance friendly, and itís safe to work on because of the access for the employees and the way itís designed. Overall, thereís been some very sound, wise decision making on our equipment purchases.

Doing Your Homework
Hazen mentions the analysis and team approach that went into the equipment purchases, noting that he traveled overseas and to Canada to evaluate the options before settling on the Comact, which felt more versatile for the millís needs because of its double profile option. He also credits the engineering firm of L.D. Jellison of Vancouver, Wash. as a key asset for the expansion. "All the preplanning was in-house and Herb invested a lot of time to get things right," says Erlewine. "As a result, weíre not looking at problems. Weíve already surpassed what we thought we would do." The new machines took some practice for Doug Woods, Dan Meyers and Larry Smith, all seasoned veterans who moved over from Three Rivers Timberís large log side. As the short logs and long logs roll onto the feeders, Meyers may take his turn at watching for any hang-ups during the shift. He and Woods operate from a comfortable cab completely outside the saw room, making the process much safer. Smith, too, operates the debarker at a safe distance in a climate-controlled cab. "We do have manual overrides that we have to use once in a while," says Meyers, his eye always on logs traveling up the wave feeders. "We get warning signs as things run through and usually have time to back things off."

The Right Team
While Hazen credits the new equipment, he reserves his highest praise for the employees. "These guys donít need much direct supervision. In fact, we always tell our department heads to treat things like itís your own business. Our workforce is very productive and everyone works hard for us. We have less than 5 percent turnover per year, and everyone is pretty enthused because they feel they have a future here. We really work hard on hiring, and weíll work short-handed until we get the right person." With a workforce of 105 employees, the large log side works nights, and the small log side operates by day. The large log side is fully optimized, running two 8-foot double cut optimized head rigs, a 50-inch Salem debarker, an optimized Salem board edger (the head rigs and edgers sport Inovec optimizers), a Newnes optimized trimmer, and a 55-bin sorter. Chip and sawdust handling flow smoothly, with a new BM&M 7x14 counter flow chip screen, a 60-unit sawdust bin and a 90-unit chip bin all recently installed.

Herb Hazen and Lyle Erlewine look over the lumber coming from the Comact Hi-Tech DDM-10.

The mill moved away from blowers and feeders, with chips now mechanically conveyed to the bins, saving energy and horsepower. All the fine-tuning has of course produced a quality product, a future for the company, and the distinguished Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certification, achieved in 2003. For Paul Caba, the companyís lumber sales manager, selling lumber with the SFI logo is a plus. Company resource manager Mike Hanna calls the certification move a "gut check" for Three Rivers, just a step the company had to do. "Weíre striving to improve every year," Hanna says of the process that includes audits and working with certified logging professionals. For a forester who has worked in North Central Idaho long enough to see stands harvested and regrown, Hanna likes the progressive attitude at the Kamiah mill, especially when it comes to the new small log facility. "Putting in the new equipment was a gamble, but we had to strike when we could. I guess in the lumber business, itís always a gamble, but I like our odds."


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This page was last updated on Monday, April 18, 2005