Moving From Cut-to-Length to
Washington State Small Log Mill Tweaks
By Barbara Coyner
software, the Timbco cuts the logs to lengths determined by the computer,
before the operator distributes the cut sections into piles. Vaagen
Brothers’ long merchandiser handles logs up to 53’6”.
Is it better to buck a 53-foot-long smalldiameter log into uniform 16-foot
lengths to create stock 2x4s, or can that log be better utilized at different
lengths to make 2x4s, and perhaps an extra 2x6, as well? Vaagen Brothers Lumber
prefers the second option, calling the method cut-to-diameter, rather than
cut-to-length. The strictly small log mill in Colville, Wash., has gained about
5 percent recovery with the process, utilizing fiber that was previously lost to
“Cut-to-diameter is actually
optimized software,” says software specialist Don Curry, a 28-year Vaagen
veteran. “There’s only one other company in North America using cut-to-diameter
software and that outfit is in British Columbia.” Noting that the program was
developed in Finland and has been used at the mill since 1999, Curry compares it
to the more widely practiced cut-to-length. “Cut-to-length doesn’t necessarily
always maximize recovery, and can actually minimize recovery,” he observes.
Curry says that the highly specialized software saves all logs to history by
species and butt diameter. When a new tree is processed, the program looks at
the history of all like trees and makes a prognosis, based on highest value
return for that tree.
Vicki Spurlin scans logs
for volume and defect as they enter the long merchandiser.
The program re-evaluates the
prognosis every 30 milliseconds to make sure it is similar to the average; if it
varies, the program will make a new prognosis, and change the bucking solution.
Vaagen’s head forester, Josh Anderson, says that the company uses
cut-to-diameter technology both in the mill, and in the woods. “We have two ways
that logs are optimized. At the mill, we like to get our logs as long as
possible, up to 53 feet. Once the logs are delivered, we run them through the
long merchandiser, which scales them for volume, checks for defects, and
analyzes them for shape and length, offering separate solutions for each log.
In each instance, the log is
cross-referenced with the various products we make, and compared to get the best
utilization.” With 100 to 150 log loads converging on the mill each day, Curry
and Anderson stress that tracking that many pieces requires as much efficiency
as possible. An imposing 127-foot portal crane offloads trucks and distributes
inventory into over 30 sorting bins, each representing species, diameter and
product breakdown. If the logs are brought in at the preferred 53-foot, 6-inch
size, they go to the long merchandiser, before landing in the appropriate bins
for later delivery to the HewSaw.
|Jesse York sorts logs using
cut-to-diameter software as they continue through the long merchandiser.
Shorter logs don’t get the cut-to
diameter scanning because of their limited options; logs 20 feet or less aren’t
cut down any further lengthwise. With mill scanning equipment operating at
lightning speed, inventory gets pigeonholed rapidly, keeping the Hew Saw in
constant motion. Because of a wide product line, Vaagen Brothers Lumber needs
every manufacturing advantage it can implement. Similarly, the company has the
specialized software installed on a Timbco 425D to cut to diameter in the woods.
“In the woods, the shape of the tree is analyzed for bucking solution options to
get the best value,” Anderson says.
Mike Pernsteiner, a local
contractor, also has the software on board, making him a valued partner in the
small log game. “Mike is our number one logger and he has a tremendous crew,”
Anderson adds. Hank Anderson operates the company’s Timbco, which is outfitted
with a Log Max 750 head. He points out that cut-to-diameter doesn’t look any
different than cut-tolength as it’s practiced in the woods, but the process
makes plenty of difference in overall wood recovery, especially in today’s
familiar Douglas fir-dominated dog hair stands.
Hank Anderson takes a
break from his cut-to-diameter work in the Timbco 425D.
Taking a small stick as his
example, he shows how taper on a similarly-shaped log can yield perhaps a 2x6 in
the middle of the widest part of the stem, with two 2x4s on each side, if the
length is adapted during cutting. Yet that 2x6 is lost if the log is cut in
uniform lengths, as traditional cut-to-length automatically does. “It’s a little
slower than cutting all 16’s,” he says of his cut-to-diameter processing work.
“Sometimes the head will run it out to 20 feet, then recalculate and run it back
to 12. All I do is hit the species button, unless I come to a defect. I can
override, but the computer makes the length decisions.”
Averaging 500 to 800 trees per
day, and 1,800 to 2,000 segments, the processor operator sorts logs into piles
by size, with separate piles for pulp. Logs are cut no shorter than 10’6” and
are processed at an impressive 1,600 feet per minute. “Volume wise, we could be
a lot quicker in getting through a stand, but there is more value this way. With
the Hew Saw, there’s no waste. It optimizes it all.” Logging manager Tim Vaughn
amplifies on the cut-todiameter concept, noting, “It fits us, and gets the most
dollars out of each tree. Recovery is one of the key things for our outfit, and
it’s a different game now.
Vaagen Brothers is setting a track
record with the Hew Saw and sometimes it’s frustrating for us keeping up with
it.” Charged with keeping the wood basket full, Josh Anderson echoes the same
frustration over keeping up with the highly efficient Hew Saw, Vaagen’s
ace-in-the-hole for processing small logs since 1989. The saw keeps a brisk
pace, one that owner Duane Vaagen feels could allow him to extend productivity
even more. But getting the wood is a constant headache, according to Anderson,
who sources from company grounds, private holdings, tribal lands, and state and
federal forests. “It’s hand to mouth, because the sources have changed,” he says
of the constant hunt for hew wood.
He does acknowledge that the new
forest supervisor for the Colville National Forest has managed to get some
timber sales rolling again, and fast-tracked recent sales involving wildfire-
damaged timber. With the emphasis on quality and teamwork, Anderson still aims
some credit toward the boss, noting that Vaagen looks for any edge he can find,
whether it’s the tall portal crane, the Hew Saw, or the cut-to-diameter
technology. “He’s a visionary, and he thrives and takes pride in being
innovative and more efficient. He’s always saying, ‘What if we did this?’ and
likes to try new approaches.”
At the same time, Anderson recalls
that fine tuning cut to-diameter software and procedures was no piece of cake.
“Some of the software was just too complex,” he says. The company would like
more contractors using the software, but also concedes that other area mills
might not need it if they’re only churning out studs. But making hew wood out of
spindly 11-inch diameter logs with 41/2-inch tops, and keeping a variety of
products under the Vaagen label, has definitely help profits. “Cut-to-diameter
has further utilization and we’d like to take it further, but it gets too costly
and inefficient if it’s too complicated. Ideally, it would be nice to sort by
pattern, but the volume would have to be huge.”
Given recent developments that
might loosen up federal timber supplies, especially in small-diameter stands,
he’d like to see more federal timber running through the mill again, so the
company can keep a light touch on its own 40,000 acres of timberlands. And he
believes that the region’s three small-diameter mills could easily absorb
another 100 truckloads of small logs per day. Most of all, Anderson suspects
solid forest health and profitable solutions can work together. “I don’t believe
those two concepts have to be mutually exclusive,” he says.
service is temporarily unavailable