Sept Oct, 2003





CedarPrime is Both Mover and Shaker

Canadian company moves to the U.S. and builds a red western cedar re-man mill using radical new concepts

By Alan Froome

When you look at the lumber business as a whole, cedar is a special case. It is valued as fencing, decking, siding and for numerous other outdoor uses, because of its natural weather-beating properties. However, cedar basically grows only in Northwest coastal regions. Recently one Canadian cedar mill, driven by economic reasons, was able to simultaneously relocate its operation and successfully adopt radical new concepts.. The Canadian company, International Forest Products, or Interfor, realized some time ago the lumber they were producing at their MacDonald Cedar division in Fort Langley, BC was only marginally cost-effective. They were looking into relocating to the U.S.

Carlos Rodriques, Plant manager with load of incoming low grade cedar.

When the increased import tariff of 27.2 percent was imposed on softwood lumber coming into the U.S., the company decided to close the mill and move to Sumas, Washington, just south of the border. Socco Forest Products, in Sumas, was interested in leasing six acres to the new company, and in providing kiln capacity. The new company was called CedarPrime Inc. — a brand name Interfor already had. The entire move took only four months, from shutdown in BC to startup at the new location in February 2003. Much of the machinery came from the old MacDonald Cedar mill, but was now used in a new way. CedarPrime became a unique threeway partnership with neighbors Socco who dried the lumber, and the Sumas Co-Generating plant, also next door. The Co-Gen plant provides steam to the kilns and disposes of sawdust from the mill. Wood chips are sent to a pulp mill.

New Approach
Setting up the new mill presented an opportunity to change production methods. The plan was to ship low-grade cedar across the border from Canada and remanufacture it to higher value products in the new U.S.-based mill. Jack Draper, vice president of Interfor (Cedar Division), estimates that the Sumas mill represents a saving of $5 million Canadian a year on duty alone, as they now ship low value lumber into the U.S., instead of high value. "The success of our U.S. mill and its critical cost advantage is important to the survival of all our mills as a group," says Draper.

Green chain and sorted bevel siding

Mill Personnel
Carlos Rodrigues, former manager of the Hammond and MacDonald cedar group, was selected as manager of the new mill. Carlos is very enthusiastic about the new ideas used at Sumas. He is one of a core team of four managers and six specialists transferred from Canada to run the mill. In addition, over 60 local people have been hired and trained, with the help of Bellingham Technical College in Washington.

New Production Concepts Overall design and engineering of the new mill was entrusted to Ches Piercy P. Eng, a sawmill consulting engineer based in Qualicum Beach, BC. After many meetings between Ches Piercy and the Interfor engineers, it was decided the new mill would have three lines — a chop line, a finger jointing line and a molding line. "It was a challenge to fit everything into an existing 40,000 sq.ft. building Socco already had on-site, but it saved us a lot of time," Ches says. And the pressure was on to be up and running as fast as possible. Despite this, some radical new concepts were planned, probably unique in the remanufacturing business: • Using low-grade green common and shop-grade cedar to feed the mill, in lengths as long as 20 feet, supplied by Interfor’s Canadian mills. • X-ray scanning for clear lumber before finger jointing the blocks. • Gluing the blocks green (undried) and drying them after finger jointing and gluing. • Molding and resawing the fingerjointed boards to make bevel siding, and other products, after kiln drying.

Second stage Western Pneumatics and glue applicator.

Three Lines
The mill’s three basic lines can process random length blocks from 6" to 20 ft. long. At the chop saw line the lumber used is mostly 2" x 6" and 2" x 8", and is first fed through a Stetson Ross 610 Planer to get uniform width and thickness, then on to a transverse lug loader deck, which feeds the Addvantage scanner. This scans the lumber for defects, looks for clears and controls the two downstream Dimter 304 Opticut Chop Saws. The pieces are then sorted into bins before the next stage. Rodrigues says, "Any wood with moisture content over 60 percent at the scanner, is kicked out and brought back later after air drying to a lower level." The clear blocks are conveyed into the Western Pneumatics finger jointing line, which lightly end-trims the pieces and cuts a 3/8" feather joint at one end, then the pieces move across to allow the other end to be trimmed and the joint cut. From here the pieces move through the glue applicator and then are manually graded.

Any material with knots or other defects is removed. Approximately 40 percent of the incoming rough cedar becomes waste — due to wane and rot — and because no defects are permitted in the finished products. The accepts move through 90 degrees into the Assembly machine which presses the glued pieces together, using 400 psi, to make the bond. From here the finger-jointed lengths (up to 20 ft.) are transferred past an end trim saw and across a deck, into a horizontal resaw. This can split the boards into two, when making bevel siding downstream. These lengths are then stacked and sent by forklift to the kilns for drying. CedarPrime now uses a special polyurethane-based glue supplied by Nacan Products of Surrey, BC. "It is important that there are no air gaps in the joints and the moisture content of the cedar actually works as a catalyst with the glue," says Rodrigues. A full bond is made within the five minutes it takes to move the glued boards across the transfer table to the horizontal resaw. The molder is a used Weinig H22B, which was purchased and reconditioned in Germany before it arrived in Sumas.

The finger-jointed boards are brought back to the mill after drying down to about 12 percent and are singulated from a pallet lift onto a transverse deck, before feeding into the molder. After the Weinig, the pieces are turned on edge and pass through a Turner 48" vertical band resaw set at an angle. This splits the boards into two bevel pieces, both 1/2" thick, which then go to a green chain for sorting and stacking by hand.

X-Ray Visions
The Addvantage Chop Saw Optimizer system that controls the two chop lines is key to the entire operation, and was supplied by COE Newnes McGehee. It is state-of-the-art and controls the chop saws, to recover the high value clears. "The system was developed at our Salmon Arm, BC plant and we have eight systems installed so far," says Harry Ogloff, the COE product manager. "The system is capable of running at feed speeds up to 700 fpm. The line at Sumas is running at 400 fpm at present." He noted that the CedarPrime project was very challenging, as is any scanning application on cedar due to its color variations, internal rot, etc. For this reason, four separate types of sensors are used at Sumas, combining to provide information about the material: • Laser profile sensors, top and bottom, to scan for shape variations like narrow material or wane; • A camera to look for surface defects, like knots, splits and pitch pockets; • An X-ray sensor to look internally for density defects like knots or rot; • Amoisture sensor to detect wet pockets and to allow the green finger joint blocks to be sorted by moisture content. "The Addvantage system can automatically grade lumber using 600 fixed length grades, 20 finger joint grades and 10 backrip grades," says Harry. "Its ability to optimize the cuts using an assortment of grades sets it apart from manually controlled lines."

Products & Markets
CedarPrime produces 1/2" x 6" and 1/2" x 8" bevel siding, both solid and finger-jointed. Most of this is shipped east to the Boston area. The company also makes export clears in 7/4 x 6" and 7/4 x 8" in lengths from 3 to 8 feet, which goes to Australia for use in window frames. Finger-jointed blanks in inch sizes 2 x 5, 2 x 6 and 2 x 8, in lengths mostly 16 feet long, are shipped to a California customer for edge gluing into wide panels. The mill is run on two 8-hour shifts and, being new, production is still ramping up. Production targets are 60,000 bd.ft. a day of fixed length clears and rip blocks plus 70,000 bd.ft. a day of bevel siding, for a total of 20 million bd.ft. a year. Approximately 40 percent of the incoming rough cedar becomes waste, not due to defects are permitted in the finished products, but rather wane and rot. CedarPrime is definitely an example of the adaptation and innovation it takes to stay successful in a questionable economy.


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This page was last updated on Tuesday, September 28, 2004