A big capital investment by Ontario’s Ben Hokum LumberIncreasing production—and flexibility

A big capital investment by Ontario’s Ben Hokum Lumber will increase their lumber production—and the flexibility of the sawmill to meet the needs of its customers.

By George Fullerton

Dean Felhaber, president and owner of Ben Hokum Lumber, says that the $20 million investment in their sawmill increases their production, as well as their flexibility to continue to serve their markets with high quality lumber.

The Hokum mill, located at Killaloe on Golden Lake, west of Ottawa, directly employs more than 100 people and produces white pine, red pine and aspen lumber. Their impact on the regional economy is multiplied when the wood and service suppliers are considered.

Ben Hokum and his son Ben Jr. established the first Hokum mill on the present mill site in 1956. The first mill had a circular head saw and carriage, and the logs were lifted out of the lake with a jack ladder to feed the mill. The mill produced 2.5 million board feet annually.

Dean Felhaber is a grandson of Ben Jr., and he had spent a summer as a teenager working in the Hokum mill and its subsidiary, North American Sawmill Equipment. Felhaber explained that he had completed his education and was employed in a government position when his grandfather suggested that he might like to try out sawmilling—and if it worked out, Dean could have a stake in the family business. Sufficient to say, it has indeed worked out.

The most recent upgrade is considered the fourth generation mill on the site.

Prior to the new construction start on Labour Day 2018 (and continued through mid-November), the mill operated a large log line (greater than 12 inch) double cut bandsaw and carriage, on a double shift basis. Additionally, the mill operated a small log line on single shift. The small log line was built in 1998 and featured 2D scanning using Sawquip technology. The canter twin mill relied on an eight-inch gang for breakdown.

A big capital investment by Ontario’s Ben Hokum LumberWith the new upgraded small-medium saw line, Hokum’s annual production has jumped from 33 million board feet to over 40 million board feet. As part of the upgrade, the sawmill building was expanded from 18,000 to 28,000 square feet.

Looking to improve efficiency, Felhaber reviewed various options to upgrade the entire milling operation. While the trend is toward smaller piece size at the log delivery end, consideration was given to simply upgrade the small log side, and stay with the same basic diameter sort between the small and large log lines. Originally, Felhaber considered upgrading the large log line, because it was older and more costly to operate.

After observing mill equipment and new technologies across Canada and the U.S., Felhaber and his team decided the best strategy would be to replace the small log line with a ‘small to medium’ saw line. The new saw line handles logs up to sixteen inches in diameter, with logs greater than 17-inch going to the large log line, which reduced operation to a single shift.

The Hokum woodbasket extends 250 kilometres and logs are delivered and primarily mass scaled, although some are stick scaled.

In the yard, delivered loads are sorted by diameter by mobile Serco loaders. Log sort is 5 to 10 inch, 11 to 16 inch and greater than 17 inch.

“We sort the smaller diameter logs to give us greater efficiency in the mill,” explained Felhaber. “Processing in batches means that the mill equipment is not making significant shifts between a five-inch to fourteen-inch, for example. The batch system means the mill runs faster and there is less wear on the equipment.”

Logs are delivered to the log infeed deck by wheel loaders. The mill operates with around fourteen wheel loaders, both Cat and Volvo.

A stationary electric Serco 170 loader at the infeed ensures individual logs are centred on the infeed, which Felhaber explained ensures smooth flow through the three ring debarkers. The mill has a Cambio 18” ring debarker, Forano 18” ring debarker, and a newly refurbished Cambio 24” ring debarker.

The stationary Serco has an adjacent stockpile of logs, in case the log flow from the yard is interrupted.

Debarked logs drop into bins and are then fed to the saw line with a Comact wave feeder. The logs are individually scanned and assessed by a gap controller. Felhaber explained that maintaining a gap of ten feet between logs is their flow rate target. He said the scan technology adjusts the speed of the wave feeder so that the targeted 10-foot gap is maintained, and ensures the mill achieves the targeted piece count through the shift.

A big capital investment by Ontario’s Ben Hokum LumberOn the chain, each log is 3D scanned (half-inch increments) with True Shape scanner Comact/BID technology. The scanning report data considers all sizes of lumber that the mill produces, trim allowances, and even the value of each piece of lumber.

The scanner can provide more than a dozen sawing solutions, and picks the one that provides the best value for Hokum according to their market orders.

The software picks the solution for each log, and then the software also decides the rotation required for the log. The software turns the log through the flying log turner as indicated by the scan, and rotates the log to line up. The cant proceeds to a new Comact/BID quad (band) saw system.

The Hokum install is the third one to go into production with this set-up. The quad saw differentiates from other quad saw systems in that the first set of saws is separated from the second set by four feet, with three sets of rollers in that four foot gap to ensure the saw process produces high dimension tolerance.

“With other quad saw systems, there is a much smaller distance between the saw sets and as a consequence, the accuracy of the dimension on the second cuts is highly variable,” says Felhaber. “If the dimension is erratic, our quality is compromised and that costs money.

“We are very impressed with the quality of the lumber coming off the quad saws. The system allows us to take one, two, three, four or no boards off the cant depending on the best value that the cant will produce.”

The two-sided cant is again scanned and then positioned and fed through a second set of canter heads, prior to entering a double arbor 12 inch gang saw, with two clusters, fitted with strobe saws.

The two saw clusters shift for each log, allowing a variety of timber sizes and lumber to be sawn in the same run. Additionally, there is a telescopic saw at the end of each cluster alongside the centre pocket that sets to different thicknesses for each log, to allow additional sawing solutions, and get a best value saw solution.

Board edging is provided with a new 45 degree Autolog scanner providing optimized saw solutions to a new Newnes/USNR edger which has capacity to handle twenty-eight boards per minute.

At the trimmer, the mill added a lug loader manufactured by Carbotech, which was modified to accommodate Hokum’s variable lumber dimensions.

“We may have a six by six followed by a one-inch board, so the lug loader was modified to handle that kind of variability,” explained Felhaber.

Following trim, the mill has the option to do a grade sort prior to lumber proceeding to the 60 bin sorter and stacker.

The new upgraded small-medium saw line has seen Hokum’s annual production jump from 33 million board feet to over 40 million. The new saw line has seen considerable improved yield over the previous 2D line.

The air dying reduces moisture content to 15 per cent, and it can take six months to a year to achieve the target moisture level.

The mill sprays water on stored logs through the warm months to prevent staining. They also dip white and red pine in a chemical bath to resist pathogens, which can result in stain and quality degradation.

The majority of their white pine production, some 80 per cent, is stickered and stacked in their yard for air drying.

Hokum’s lumber has been marketed through Falcon Lumber since the early days of the operation.

Felhaber said that while their main white pine markets are domestic, mainly Ontario and Quebec, they also have significant markets in Britain, the Middle East and the Caribbean. He pointed out that Hokum has built very strong business relationships with their major customers, and maintaining those relationships has been key to their success.

Felhaber said that in recent years, Hokum’s has reduced their exposure to the United States market due to the politics of marketing lumber.

Their red pine is primarily directed to pressure treating providers and fencing market.

Hokum also saws as much as 11 million board feet of aspen annually. While low grade lumber is directed to industrial uses, the high grade lumber ships to processors in Montreal, which supply finished lumber to molding and casket manufacturers.

Bark from the milling operation is supplied to a number of mulch producers. Clean chips are supplied to a number of secondary processors.

“We are the primary supplier to the Roseburg MDF mill in Pembroke,” says Felhaber. “We also supply chips to a number of pulp mills. A good deal of our sawdust sells to the Ensyn plant in Renfrew, and they process it into a biofuel that is marketed in the New England States.”

Felhaber says the data collected from the scanning technology provides an edge to maintain high efficiency. He pointed out that scans point out how much trim is on logs entering the mill.

Having accurate trim on logs is very important to the bottom line. If there is not adequate trim, the lumber may downgrade to the next finished length and that means lower return on lumber from those logs. On the other hand, if logs have excessive trim, they pay for it at the scales, and then cut off that trim and sell it at a discounted price as chips. “If we suspect we see an issue with trim, we have the opportunity to run batches of logs from individual contractors and identify a problem and have it addressed promptly,” explained Felhaber.

The Hokum mill is the largest licencee in Ottawa Valley Forest Inc., the SFL holder for Renfrew County, and additionally buys logs from contractors and small producers.

They have a John Deere harvester teamed with a Tigercat forwarder which operates primarily in red pine plantation. They also contract four other CTL operators to supply the mill with plantation red pine.

In addition to purchasing cut-to-length logs, the mill also purchases treelength wood.

“We operate three Serco slashers in our yard,” explains Felhaber. “Treelength gives us the option to merchandize out logs at lengths that may be short in the short wood inventory. That flexibility allows us to saw the log lengths we need to fill the lumber orders on our books, and serve our customer needs in timely fashion.”

The Hokum mill has already proceeded with a second upgrade project on the grading system, to meet the increased saw mill output. Construction on a grading system is well advanced, with scanning and automated handling equipment mostly installed and final cladding finishing up. Plans are to test the new system in October 2019. Carbotech supplied the grading line equipment, and is responsible for the installation. Autolog supplied the controls, and Welk Electric is doing the electrical.

“Our upgrades position us to maintain our business relationships, and continue to provide us with process flexibility to process multiple species and supply a diverse line of lumber products which serve diverse markets,” says Felhaber.

Future upgrades, further down the road, will include kiln drying and planer operation.

“While we have automated a lot of our processes, we have maintained our staff, by moving personnel to new positions,” explained Felhaber. “We have a highly trained and productive workforce. We continue to support a comprehensive heath and safety program and have supported training and upgrading.

“We train operators for multiple stations and rotate operators on different stations. With cross training, there is the option to fill a station due to the absence of the regular operator, so the mill continues to meet production targets.”

The Ontario government supported the Hokum Lumber upgrade project with $5.5 million through the Jobs and Prosperity Fund, which Felhaber said was a major advantage when the company was seeking the balance of the financing for the entire $20 million upgrade project.

A big capital investment by Ontario’s Ben Hokum LumberIt was full tilt at HokumLumber during the upgrade

Ben Hokum Lumber employed as many as 70 trades people during the mill reconstruction, 24 hrs/day, 7 days/week, using as many local contractors as possible.

The sawmill building was expanded from 18,000 to 28,000 square feet, and local contractor Luloff Contracting of Eganville co-ordinated the building addition. The electrical supply was nearly doubled, with work completed by Welk Electric of Killaloe, who has worked with Hokum and other area sawmillers for over 50 years. They also employed Tru-Way Machinery Manufacturers of Combermere to manufacture log deck and infeeds, as well as chip and sawdust conveyors, and the board edger infeed system.

Logging and Sawmilling Journal
August 2019

On the Cover:
Ben Hokum Lumber has completed a major upgrade at their sawmill, located at Killaloe, west of Ottawa. The mill directly employs more than 100 people and produces white pine, red pine and aspen lumber. With a view to improving efficiency, the company looked at various options to upgrade the entire milling operation—and decided the best strategy would be to replace the small logline with a ‘small to medium’ saw line. Read all about the details of the upgrade beginning on page 12 of this issue of LSJ.

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Mill game-changer
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Increasing production—and flexibility
A big capital investment by Ontario’s Ben Hokum Lumber will increase their lumber production—and the flexibility of the sawmill to meet the needs of its customers.

Things are cooking for New Brunswick logger
Bolstered by demand for wood from both sides of the border—and his son entering the business—New Brunswick’s Jeff Cook is optimistic about the industry, which has prompted him to carry out some equipment upgrades.

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