Interfor’s Acorn sawmill in Delta, B.C.SCALING BACK log scaling costs

Interfor’s Acorn sawmill in Delta, B.C. now has the first government certified legal-for-trade log scanner in North America, and it’s reducing scaling costs while providing more accurate log measurements.

By Paul MacDonald

Bruce Moran of Vancouver-based forest company Interfor recalls that the first government certified log scanner in North America—which started operating recently—had relatively modest beginnings.

Moran says that at the time, Interfor was working with the B.C. government on making some small changes on weigh scaling with log booms on the Coast.

“We got through that process and were able to get changes made to the regulations,” he recalls.

“But back then, one of the logging engineers came to me and said that the way we were scaling wood—using dryland sorts—was really not the best. He suggested we should just use the scanners at the sawmill to measure the logs,” says Moran.

“And I said, that’s the craziest idea,” he recalls. “There is no way the B.C. government is ever going to approve something like that.”

But that said, Moran, who is timber value supervisor for Interfor’s Campbell River operation on Vancouver Island, still felt there was something to the idea.

Moran followed up, and showed a government scaling contact a scanning system at one of the company’s mills.

“We watched the logs going through the scanner, and I suggested that Interfor might like to use the results from the data delivered from the scans for measuring logs. And that’s where it really started for us.”

Interfor’s Acorn sawmill in Delta, B.C.Bruce Moran (right), timber value supervisor for Interfor’s Campbell River operation, and Norvin Laudon, chief technical officer, Springer Microtec North America, at Interfor’s Acorn sawmill.

It’s taken a few years, and many meetings, but both the B.C. and Canadian governments have come on board—and Interfor’s Acorn sawmill in Delta, B.C., just outside of Vancouver, now has the first government certified legal-for-trade log scanner in North America.

The system, from sawmill technology company Springer Microtec, is significantly reducing the manpower and log handling involved in the process, reducing scaling costs while providing more accurate log measurements.

The Microtec Logeye scanner system at Acorn is now officially the first scanner in North America to be approved to automatically measure log volume for trade. The scanner has been tested and certified by Measurement Canada to meet the recently released Terms and Conditions for the Approval of Timber Dimension Measuring Devices. Translation: it has the government seal of approval.

The first stage of testing for the system was done in the lab in Ottawa at the end of last September, and then continued on with equipment installed at Interfor’s Acorn sawmill. The second stage of testing was completed under actual operating conditions, leading to its official approval.

Previously, the Acorn sawmill was required to manually scale 100 per cent of its logs off site at a dryland sort facility.

Together with the Ministry of Forests of B.C., the Acorn mill, and Microtec, a pilot project was designed to use the measurements of the officially approved and sealed scanner for payment. About eight per cent of the 2016 mill consumption will use the scanner data to determine volume for stumpage purposes—and the company expects that volume will increase in 2017.

The species/grade ratio from the manually scaled sample is then applied statistically to the log booms destined for the mill.

Interfor’s Acorn sawmill in Delta, B.C.The Springer Microtec Logeye system at the Acorn sawmill has 12 cameras that are synchronized to the microsecond. Illustrating the high tech nature of the system, the cameras are taking digital images of each log up to 600 times a second.

The remaining log bundles bypass the sort facility, travel directly to the mill and are scanned in the debarking line. In addition to scanning the volume, the data is also used for bucking optimization, at the mill. All measurements are compiled and sent to the province’s Harvest Billing System for payment.

Microtec drew upon its installations in Europe for this first North American system.

“With Microtec’s experience in this field, we were able to pass the extensive requirements for the test,” says Norvin Laudon, chief technical officer at Springer Microtec North America.

“Our first scanner was certified in Germany in 2005, and we’ve installed well over 100 government certified log scaling solutions in Europe, Russia and South America since then,” says Laudon. “With Acorn, we feel we’re now at the forefront of a new era of log measurement in North America.”

Laser scanners, of course, are a fact of life at modern sawmills these days, and are a key part of optimizing cutting programs for a mill.

Interfor’s Acorn sawmill in Delta, B.C.Interfor’s Acorn mill, for example, has had a Microtec six-head true shape scanner for six years.

“The big difference now, though, is that the system is now government certified,” says Moran.

The industry does not have the same capacity to scale logs it has done in the past due to a reduced workforce. The number of scalers available to work is declining as many are at the age of retirement; the new system is able to fill that gap so that production will not be affected by this limited scaling capacity. The industry is now able to scan logs that do not require the trained eye of a scaler. Logs that are dynamic in value, though, such as old growth or high value cedar, still require the trained eye of a scaler to maximize the value and produce accurate log assessments.

The Logeye system at Acorn has 12 cameras that are synchronized to the microsecond. “That’s really important because the log is actually inside the debarker while it is being scanned, so the log is moving around, and there is lots of vibration,” notes Laudon.

“If the cameras weren’t synchronized, and you were taking a picture of the log here and there with the log moving around, you would not be able to get the proper reconstruction of the log, and wouldn’t be able to meet the certification,” he explained.

Illustrating the high tech nature of the system, the cameras are taking digital images of each log up to 600 times a second.

As Laudon mentioned, Springer Microtec has a number of installations in Europe, but many of the countries there have their own, separate certification systems—France has its own certification system, as do other countries, such as Germany and Austria, for example.

Interfor’s Acorn sawmill in Delta, B.C.Laudon says the Canadian certification, through the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), could help with achieving standardization in Europe. “The CSA has done a very thorough job—I think the Canadian certification is the most thorough certification we have so far. I know having the Canadian certification is opening doors in other countries, as well.”

The development of the Terms and Conditions for the Approval of Timber Dimension Measuring Devices is a result of long term work by the Canada-wide multi-disciplinary committee, the CSA Technical Committee on Scaling Roundwood. Laudon and Moran are both members of this committee.

But there was a lot of work that had to be done before those standards were developed, says Moran.

“Before the technical standards happened, we had to get buy-in from the Ministry of Forests. They believe in the system they have now—and rightly so. It’s not a bad system. But we were trying to move ahead with something completely different. It was new to them.”

Moran recalls that the company had discussions about moving to a certified log scaling system with then B.C. cabinet minister Pat Bell. It was during the industry downturn, and Bell, along with the B.C. government, was interested in trying new things, in terms of innovation and equipment, to help out the industry. And Bell had first-hand experience in the forest industry, having co-owned a logging company before he got into politics. He thought certified log scaling would be a great advance for the industry.

With this kind of encouragement, they were able to get some traction on the provincial front—but they really needed the federal government to get involved.

“The committee’s goal was to get federal approval, rather than require every province to separately certify the scanner,” explained Laudon.

Regulations regarding trade measurement of logs falls under Measurement Canada, which falls under Industry Canada.

“Through the CSA Technical Committee on Scaling Roundwood, the people involved in log scaling got together, and developed what the equipment should do and what it should achieve—setting the standards,” explained Laudon. Measurement Canada then tests the equipment against those standards, for certification. The Microtec scanner, for example, is certified for log diameter and length.

“So what we have been able to achieve is a national standard under CSA and Measurement Canada, and the machines are set to meet that standard—the equipment produces data that is standard across Canada,” added Laudon.

What is done with the data that comes out of the system, though, is a provincial matter. Each of the provinces applies their own formula to arrive at what they need.

Interfor’s Acorn sawmill in Delta, B.C.For Interfor’s Acorn sawmill, the new system has meant a significant change, and delivered log cost savings. The wood for the mill is delivered by water, so in the past there has been little opportunity to measure or weigh wood in any other way, other than manual scaling.

“So what each province does to get volume for payment is up to them—but the numbers are approved and certified,” said Laudon.

At Interfor’s Acorn operation, the scanner works on log diameters from 18 to 115 centimetres, and lengths up to 17.6 metres.

For the sawmill, it has meant a significant change, and delivered log cost savings.

“It’s important for us because we get wood delivered by water, so in the past, there has been little opportunity for us to measure or weigh wood in any other way other than manual scaling,” explained Moran.

“We were scanning the logs for optimization at the mill anyway, and now we have a certified system in place, and we are able to bypass the manual scaling process.”

Previously, if they were bringing wood from a logging operation up the coast, they might have sent it to a dryland sort at Howe Sound, north of Vancouver. The logs would be taken out of the water, spread out on the ground, a scaler would measure the logs, and they would then put them back in the water. Only then would the logs be brought to the Acorn mill.

“What we do now is we have the guys in the bush pre-sort the wood to Acorn’s specs, and send the logs directly to the Acorn mill, where it is now scanned.”

The system is more accurate, results in faster log deliveries, allows them to better manage log inventories, and reduce costs. “It’s delivering all these great results,” says Moran.

Moran is quick to note that establishing the certification standards, and implementing changes at the Acorn mill, has truly been a team effort, with involvement from people at Measurements Canada, management and electricians at the Acorn sawmill, and provincial government representatives.

Interfor’s Acorn sawmill in Delta, B.C.“We could not have done this without the people at Measurement Canada and at the mill,” he says.

Moran notes that the system delivers the most benefits to mills receiving their logs by water, so it has good application on the B.C. coast. Mills in the B.C. Interior that receive their logs by truck already have weigh scale systems, but a certified log scaling system still has the potential to deliver better accuracy, he says.

Overall, such systems offer good opportunities for the industry, he believes. “I think the more certified scanners that are out there, the better it is for our industry. Even if we were sorting wood out in bush for someone who is an Interfor log customer, and they have certified scannng equipment, they are benefiting, and we are benefiting. We can send the logs directly to them.”

In spite of its name, Interfor Acorn is a softwood mill

Despite its hardwood name, Interfor’s Acorn sawmill produces softwood lumber. It operates on a species mix of approximately 74 per cent hemlock /balsam and 26 per cent Douglas fir.

Acorn’s target market is primarily the premium Japan square market. The focus is in producing lumber in lengths of 3.0 metres, 3.65 metres and 4.0 metres. Primary Japan product dimensions are 90 mm x 90 mm, 105 mm x105 mm and 120 mm x120 mm.

As well as lumber for Japan, Acorn produces a significant amount of product for the China market, with a minor amount of product for the North American market. The log breakdown process is through a single line primary breakdown headrig, leading to a twin horizontal band saw then a radial 

Logging and Sawmilling Journal
July/August 2016

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