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Logging and Sawmilling Journal March/April 2014

March/april 2014

On the Cover:
The restart of the Tolko OSB mill in Slave Lake, Alberta—with accompanying capital investments and job creation—comes as good news for the community, which was hit by a devastating fire two years ago. Read all about the mill re-start beginning on page 58 of this issue of Logging and Sawmilling Journal. (Photo of Tolko Slave Lake OSB operation by Tony Kryzanowski).

A co-operative approach to getting wood supply
An Alberta co-op—EDFOR Co-operative Ltd—could be a business model for smaller logging and sawmilling businesses, through which they can acquire a guaranteed wood supply.

San Jose shows the way with new Tigercat 875
The first Tigercat 875 logger designed for loading or processing—a heavy duty purpose built machine with the features of the popular Tigercat 880 but in a smaller, energy efficient and ergonomic package—is a solid fit for B.C. contractor San Jose Logging.

In the woods innovators
B.C.’s family-run Lime Creek Logging has a track record of working with innovative equipment in the woods—these days, that includes a Delimbinator, to handle small limby timber, and a Southstar processor head.

Canada’s Top Lumber Producer
See who’s on top, and what positions have changed, in Logging and Sawmilling Journal’s authoritative listing of the Top Lumber Producers in Canada, courtesy of leading forest industry consultants, International WOOD Markets Group Inc.

Wood mats for the oil patch
A mid-sized B.C. Interior sawmill, Woodco Management, is finding solid success producing wooden mats and mat components for Alberta’s oil patch, using a Micromill system and a new Select band saw.

Wanted: more saw filers
New filing equipment and getting more people into the trade will be the hot topics at this year’s B.C. Saw Filer’s Trade Show and Conference.

Guest Column
Where is the supply for increased SPF lumber going to come from? It’s simple, say consultants Jim Girvan and Murray Hall. It’s could come from Alberta.

The Edge
Included in The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre, Alberta Innovates - Bio Solutions, FPInnovations, NRCan and the Woodland Operations Learning Foundation (WOLF) and Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development.

Getting mill dust more under controlA trial at a West Fraser sawmill in B.C. has demonstrated the feasibility and energy efficiency—and potentially increased safety—of using dust control equipment that has been very successfully used in the mining industry.

Getting the most out of your iron with new regs
Training sessions are helping Nova Scotia logging contractors get up to
speed with changes in forest management regulations

The Last Word
Alberta’s new Electricity and Renewable Resource Ministry is the first standalone provincial government ministry in Canada aimed directly at renewable resource development and regulation, and has the potential to have a significant impact on the forest industry, says Tony Kryzanowski

Tech Update: Forwarders



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Mill dust

Hitting the mill restart button

The restart of the Tolko OSB mill in Slave Lake, Alberta—with accompanying capital investments and job creation—comes as good news for the community, which was hit by a devastating fire two years ago.

By Tony Kryzanowski

Imagine purchasing a Ferrari sports car and being forced to put it in the garage because the insurance becomes too expensive after only a year of driving it. That’s how Tolko Industries Ltd. must have felt when it curtailed its nearly new high performance oriented strandboard (OSB) plant in Slave Lake, Alberta in February 2009, due to poor market conditions.

The highly advanced technology installed at Tolko’s Slave Lake OSB plant is what attracted Operations Manager Mark Cunningham and the entirely new management team to jobs at the re-started plant.

However, the plant in Slave Lake is now back in production and manufactured its first panel slightly ahead of schedule this past December. The market for OSB has improved significantly, due to increased housing starts in the U.S., making operation of the plant economically viable. It is one of two operating OSB plants owned by Tolko, the other being in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan. The company has another plant in curtailment mode in High Prairie, Alberta, which is still being maintained.

Since announcing in February 2013 that the Slave Lake plant would reopen, Tolko has invested a substantial amount of capital to eliminate a bottleneck at the plant infeed. The jack ladder infeed was engineered to singulate log flow into a debarking system designed to debark logs in batches. To solve this bottleneck, the roof on the infeed portion of the building structure was raised and two Tanguay PL350 electric stationary log loaders were purchased. One log loader will operate while the second will be a spare. The working log loader will feed 7.5 cubic metres of logs at a time from the ponds to the debarkers. This investment is also contributing to better overall strander production.

The mechanical portion of the project was handled by Grande Prairie-based Kaynic Construction. Burnaby, B.C.-based LoadPath Industrial performed all the building structural changes.

The Slave Lake OSB plant was constructed with value-added production in mind, and although the re-commissioning focus initially has been on OSB sheeting production for the commodity home construction market, part of the recent investment included installation of a stainless steel imprint screen on the press. It makes one side of the OSB panel rough so that these OSB panels can be used in roofing applications.

The Tolko OSB plant in Slave Lake is capable of producing 825 million square feet of OSB annually based on 3/8” thickness. The plant can produce oriented strandboard, oriented strand lumber, and laminated strand lumber.

“We will also make nine foot and ten foot panels for use on the U.S. West Coast, which is a huge market and falls right into the production capabilities of a continuous flow press,” says Slave Lake Plant Manager, Mark Cunningham.

He says that an entirely new management team has been assembled to re-commission and operate the plant. Having 19 years of experience working in the OSB industry, Cunningham says what attracted him to the Slave Lake plant was its highly advanced technology. For example, the final stages of ripping the panels to appropriate size, wrapping, warehousing and shipping is highly automated with several robotic machine centres. Five employees can operate this entire area.

The plant is also capable of producing oriented strand lumber (OSL) and laminated strand lumber (LSL). The switch from one product to another can be made by simply adjusting the orienting heads on the forming line so that the strands in the core layers sit parallel to each other rather than in a crossing pattern, as well as adjusting the number of layers in each panel.

In terms of technology, the plant features the longest continuous flow press in the world for OSB production, supplied by German manufacturer Siempelkamp.

Cunningham describes working at the plant as a once in a lifetime opportunity, adding that this is also what attracted many others to the management team.

“All the programming is very high tech,” says Cunningham. “There are a lot of computer data shuffles and handshakes throughout the plant. That’s one of our biggest challenges—to understand how the data is taken from one piece of equipment to another piece of equipment downstream, as well as the automation.”

The challenge is not only to learn how to optimize the operation of the equipment but also understanding how a decision at one machine centre can impact the operation and performance of another machine centre. Like a high performance vehicle, the goal is to fine tune the operation of the entire line to maximize quality and production once the plant is fully operational.

In 2007, Tolko invested $250 million into the greenfield plant, with the intent of not producing OSB panels for the housing market, but with a focus on the industrial market for tractor trailers, railcars and containers. A portion of its production was also targeted for a planned I-joist construction beam plant near Edmonton, but that all changed when the housing market collapsed. Now, plant production is ramping up slowly, with production of 4’ X 8’ panels for the commodity OSB market initially, although the plant has the capability of producing OSB panels up to 72’ long and in thicknesses from ¼” to 2 ½”.

“We have targeted more of a sheeting product for the time being to try to settle out all the machine centres in the plant so that we can learn how each machine centre runs and get the reliability there,” says Cunningham. “Then we will begin producing value-added products like web stock, rim boards, and flooring products. Down the road, we will also manufacture an LSL-type product.”

Operational staff, most of who were not employed at the facility during the original start-up, began work early in the re-commissioning process. Representatives for many of the equipment vendors spent almost two months at the plant, in some cases, to familiarize everyone with their technology and demonstrate how to properly and safely operate it.

Once fully re-commissioned, the plant will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, providing 135 full time jobs. The high degree of automation in the production process has attracted a number of women to the workforce, representing about 30 per cent of the plant’s staff complement.

“The work does not require someone who is exceptionally strong but you have to be able to think and you have to be able to understand some of the processes,” says Cunningham. “We’ve got a great group of people on site right across the board who want to learn, who want to make the plant successful and who are very interested in being part of a start-up.”

Like many other industries in Alberta, Tolko is finding that the most difficult positions to fill are in the skilled trades area.

With the recovery in the U.S. housing market, demand has increased substantially for OSB.

The OSB plant will consume about 900,000 cubic metres of fibre annually, with about 70 per cent of that aspen and black poplar, complemented with smaller components of conifer and birch, harvested from an area where the average log haul round trip is about five hours. The plant is rated for production of about 825 million square feet of OSB per year based on 3/8” thickness.

The logs are debarked on Finnish-made Andritz rotary debarkers, which were chosen specifically for their batch debarking capabilities and ability to deliver clean logs with no fibre pull or tear. The debarked logs are stranded using 44-knife Carmanah stranders, which are identical to the stranders operating at Tolko’s Meadow Lake plant. The green strands are dried using two Buttner dryers, with a capacity to process about 65 tonnes of seven inch long strands per hour per dryer. Heat for the dryers is provided by dedicated GTS energy systems.

The strands are mixed with prescribed batches of resin in Coil blenders before being spread on the Siempelkamp forming line. The mat on the forming line will be steam pre-heated, which will collapse the mat somewhat and raise the mat temperature to reduce the amount of time each board must spend in the press. The steam temperature can be adjusted as needed. The eight foot wide mat then proceeds through the 70.3 metre long, Siempelkamp continuous flow press.

Once pressed, the OSB panels are cut to their finished length using two double diagonal saws located after the press and cooled on three star coolers. Once cooled, the panels are processed through the Siempelkamp finishing line, then placed in either short term or long term storage.

Two Tanguay stationary PL350 log loaders are used at the Tolko OSB plant to feed its Andritz rotary debarkers.

Cunningham says the re-commissioning of the plant means that Tolko can significantly expand its production volume and pursue a more diverse customer base, given the variety of products that the Slave Lake plant is capable of producing.

It is also good news for the town of Slave Lake, which two years ago suffered the most devastating community fire in modern Canadian history. It resulted in the loss of over 300 homes from a forest fire fueled by extremely high winds that cut a destructive path right through town, leaving hundreds of people homeless. Given that the community was in a state of rebuilding, housing of new employees represented a challenge to Tolko when it decided to start the plant up again. However, Slave Lake has made great strides since the fire to rebuild homes and apartment buildings.

The OSB plant is not only creating local jobs, but is providing significant economic spinoffs in its logging operations and local purchases of goods and services. Cunningham says Tolko has a strong belief that the housing market will not suffer the same type of artificial bubble that caused the recent U.S. housing collapse, and believes that the Slave Lake plant has a bright future.