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
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
The PALCO Scotia mill
features the Comact transverse optimum bucking system, with a galley of
22 saws, three sorting decks and a reject deck.
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.
Huey Long Jr (standing),
director of sawmill operations, with operator Tim Coppini. Long notes
that the new mill is highly automated. "Every piece of lumber will have
been scanned six times by the time it leaves us."
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 Comact double-length
infeed canter line (above), with Cetec six-foot quad bandmills and dual
Comact C-1 3D laser scanners. The operator’s cab is located outside so
the operator can see the log infeed, relying on video cameras to monitor
the canter and bandmills.
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
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:
• Nicholson A8 debarker, with double cutter heads including a slitter to handle
the stringy redwood bark (debarks the tree length logs before bucking).
• Comact "Log Trimmer" transverse bucking system, with Comact transverse
two-axis photocell light curtain scanner, a gallery of 22 saws, three sorting
decks plus a reject deck.
• A Comact double length infeed canter line, with Cetec 6 foot quad bandmills
and dual Comact C-1 3D laser scanners. The operator’s cab is located outside the
building so the operator can see the log infeed, relying on video cameras to
monitor the canter and bandmills.
• Cants go to a Comact 8" horizontal single arbor curve gang, with chainbed
feed, 2 pockets, 2 chipping heads and 18 or more saws plus Comact 3D laser
scanner and controls. Max feed speed is 500 fpm.
• A Comact 4"x 36" opening lineal board optimizing edger with horizontal arbor
Comact scanner, 4 saws and skew and slew sawing capability. Max feed speed is
1,200 fpm. • A rebuilt used Schurmann manual control board edger.
• A rebuilt used McDonough horizontal reman bandmill.
• Four Comact grading stations. Each operator is seated with pushbutton controls
and does not touch the lumber. Grade decision is entered by the operator and
held in the system memory for trimming downstream.
• A Comact 15 saw 4" optimizing trimmer.
• 70 bin lumber sorter, made up of 35 new Comact bins and 35 used bins from the
Carlotta mill, plus lumber stacker and stick placer.
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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